Hamas on Monday claimed to have confiscated three ambulances that were imported into the Gaza Strip for UNRWA several weeks ago, backing up an earlier IDF claim that the ambulances had been seized.
But UNRWA, which last week denied an earlier Jerusalem Post article quoting IDF claims that the ambulances had been confiscated, reiterated Monday that the reports were false, said that the ambulances were safe and sound in its Gaza compound, and even distributed a photograph of one of its officials, Christer Nordal, posing with what it said were the vehicles in question.
According to a statement released by the Hamas-controlled Gaza Crossings Directorate on Monday, the ambulances were confiscated in late July because UNRWA did not have proper documentation to import them into Gaza via the Kerem Shalom crossing.
In an August 4 e-mail obtained by the Post, UNRWA official Jodi Clark wrote to Israeli defense officials to state that the ambulances had been "impounded by the authorities in Gaza." The e-mail was sent by Clark to several Israeli defense officials as well as to John Ging, the director of UNRWA, and Nordal, his deputy. The e-mail later circulated throughout the Defense Ministry.
"The three ambulances we imported into Gaza two weeks ago are still impounded by the authorities in Gaza and we continue to negotiate their release which is not going well at this stage," Clark wrote in the e-mail.
She went on to ask the Israeli defense officials for their assistance in coordinating the transfer of three new ambulances into Gaza, but through the Erez crossing, "to avoid the authorities having the opportunity to seize the vehicles from us."
Asked about Clark's e-mail, and about the official Hamas-run Gaza Crossings Directorate's claim to be holding the ambulances, UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said that the e-mail had been recalled by Clark immediately after being sent and that the story based on its content was untrue. The Post was able to confirm that the e-mail was indeed recalled.
"The e-mail was recalled within minutes because the information contained in it was wrong," Gunness said. "The story is a house of cards based on information that was wrong. We have circulated pictures which prove it was wrong."
And after the e-mail was sent, Gunness added, there was a follow-up communication with an Israeli official "to make it quite certain that he knew that the information was wrong."
In the Gaza Crossings Directorate statement, released to several Palestinian news sites on Monday, Hamas said it confiscated the ambulances since they "did not have proper identification and documentation to confirm UNRWA's ownership."
The directorate said that the ambulances were being stored near the Kerem Shalom crossing and would be released once UNRWA provided the necessary documentation.
On Monday, Gunness released photos of what he said were the three ambulances, with Nordal standing alongside them.
"The story that UNRWA had its vehicles stolen continues to not be true," Gunness said. "The pictures show clearly that these ambulances were not stolen."
Asked if he could provide proof that the ambulances in the picture were the ambulances imported into Gaza in late July, Gunness repeated that the pictures proved that the IDF and Hamas claims were inaccurate.
The ambulance saga began last Thursday with a report on Army Radio claiming that three ambulances transferred into Gaza had been seized by Hamas. The Post's Web site published a story on the reported seizure of the ambulances, attributing it to Army Radio.
The next day, Gunness called the Post and asked that a follow-up report be published, making plain that UNRWA denied the ambulances had been confiscated.