Hamas officials on Wednesday refused to allow into the Gaza Strip 21 truckloads of humanitarian aid that had been offloaded from the Gaza-bound flotilla ships currently docked at Ashdod Port, until “all” of those detained in Monday’s naval raid were released.
The deportation of those detainees – except for those who have refused efforts to return them to their home countries – was in its final stages on Wednesday night, as hundreds of people were flown out of Ben-Gurion Airport to Istanbul, before continuing on to their final destinations.
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A senior official from the office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday night that the trucks were waiting to go into Gaza at the Kerem Shalom border crossing, pending approval from Hamas.
“Hamas has refused to allow those trucks to go in,” the official said, “and if the aid is so urgent, my question is, why are they not allowing it into Gaza?”
The official added that “we have conducted talks with the Red Cross [to try and get the aid in], but Hamas is still refusing. In the meantime, the rest of truckloads will wait in Israel until further notice.”
The Hamas government’s social welfare minister, Ahmed Kurd, said the group “refuse[s] to receive the humanitarian aid until all those who were detained aboard the ships are released. We also insist that the equipment be delivered in its entirety.”
Kurd added that Israel’s decision to allow a number of wheelchairs to be delivered to the Gaza Strip was a “deception,” claiming that the batteries needed to operate them had been removed by the IDF, rendering them useless.
Israel denies the claims, saying that the wheelchairs along with the batteries are waiting at the Kerem Shalom crossing.
The Hamas minister also said that Israel’s decision to send some of the aid that had been seized aboard the ships to the Gaza Strip was designed to divert attention from the “massacre” that had taken place in the sea.
Egypt reopens border crossing
Calling to lift the blockade on the coastal territory, Kurd welcomed Egypt’s decision to reopen the Rafah border crossing on Tuesday. He expressed hope that the terminal would remain open on a permanent basis.
Egypt opened the terminal indefinitely in both directions for a second day on Wednesday.
Egyptian authorities, however, banned Hamas Health Minister Basem Naim from crossing at the Rafah terminal.
Naim was on his way from the Gaza Strip to attend a conference of the Arab Physicians Union in Algeria when the Egyptians turned him away. The Egyptians did not offer any explanation for their decision to bar Naim from crossing.
Taher a-Nunu, spokesman for the Hamas government, said that the issue of the humanitarian aid would be resolved only through consultations with the organizers of the convoy in Turkey.
He stressed that Hamas’s top priority now was to ensure the release of all those who had been detained aboard the ships.
Aid groups say lack of recipient is problem
The COGAT official added that his office oversaw the transfer of “between 80 and 100 truckloads of humanitarian aid into Gaza every day,” and that the initial estimate of the total amount of goods contained on the docked flotilla ships amounted to “between 70 and 80 truckloads, or roughly one day of work at the Kerem Shalom Crossing.”
“Among the cargo [offloaded so far] are battery-powered wheelchairs, which are used for the elderly and handicapped, assorted medical items, medicines, foodstuffs, clothes and shoes,” the official continued.
“But we have had difficulty in disclosing what is actually on the boats, because it was jumbled around and poorly stowed. We are currently dangling down ropes into the hull of the ships to identify what is inside.”
Aid organization representatives in Gaza pointed to a different
problem. Under normal conditions, they said, shipments of goods would
be met on the Palestinian side by the intended recipient, such as a
merchant or an aid organization. In this case, however, the cargo was
meant to be delivered directly to the Gaza authorities, and since
Israel refuses to deal directly with Hamas, the transfer of goods is
“No one knows who the cargo was intended for. It is up to the donors in
the source countries to decide who should receive it, and since it is
unclear who the donors are and where they intended for the equipment to
go, no one can claim it,” said a source in Gaza.
However, COGAT spokesman Maj. Guy Inbar dismissed this claim.
“People in Gaza have been claiming that there is a humanitarian crisis
there for years,” he said. “I find it difficult to believe that they
don’t know what to do with medicine, food, clothes and blankets. The
least they can do is carry it off to storage until the proper recipient
Inbar said that COGAT had unsuccessfully made efforts to identify the
recipients of the cargo since the flotilla first left its port.
“This proves that the whole thing was a provocation and a propaganda
move and that no one really cares about the people of Gaza,” he said.