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(photo credit: AP)
Israel is not opposed to foreign aid to reconstruct Gaza's infrastructure, but is worried the funds and supplies could easily reach the hands of Hamas, a Foreign Ministry spokesman told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
"If the international community believes it can bring about a real reconstruction of Gaza, it has our blessing, but we don't want the resources it will pour into Gaza to end up rebuilding the infrastructure of violence, the weapons and war machines [of Hamas]," said the ministry's deputy spokesman Andy David.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, after a meeting with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in London on Thursday, called for the international community to continue the flow of aid into Gaza regardless of concerns over whether Hamas would pilfer it for its own purposes.
"There are many saying that this aid is being stolen," Abbas said. "In spite of that, what we are saying is that the world must, must keep sending humanitarian aid. Now, as far as reconstruction is concerned, reconstruction must start today - yes, today - through the international organizations and agencies."
Abbas added Gaza's reconstruction required some $15 billion in foreign assistance.
Brown pledged Britain would help the reconstruction efforts, and called on Israel to allow aid to reach the victims of the conflict, BBC reported.
"We are only now seeing the full extent of the problems we face," he said. "We must do everything we can to help rebuild Gaza and to provide humanitarian aid to families whose lives have been shattered."
Brown added that he had written Prime Minister Ehud Olmert this week urging him to allow full humanitarian access to those seeking to get food and medicines to those who need it.
But Israeli officials remain wary of the international organizations' ability to keep the aid out of the hands of Hamas.
Just one day before the London meeting, United Nations Relief and Works Agency officials blasted Hamas for sending armed forces into a UN warehouse in Gaza to seize some 3,500 blankets and 400 food parcels funded by international donors.
The seizure took place after UNRWA staff refused to hand over the aid supplies to the Hamas-run Social Affairs Ministry, according to UNRWA spokesman Christopher Gunness. Similar aid packages were distributed to 70,000 residents over the past two weeks, Gunness said.
The incident called into question the ability of the international community to control where its assistance goes, said Israeli officials.
While certain international agencies, especially UNRWA and the Red Cross, "are capable of properly overseeing the distribution of the aid - which in any case won't arrive in cash form - there is still a problem as long as Hamas is sovereign in Gaza," said David.
"Nobody trusts Hamas, not us and not the international community. We all know that Hamas uses its resources for developing military capabilities and not civilian infrastructure. The same supplies can build greenhouses or Kassam [rocket] tubes," he added.
The difficulty faced by the donors could be resolved if Gaza residents took the matter into their hands en masse, said David.
"The residents of Gaza can't avoid some responsibility for this. They are not helpless children. They have to make their voices heard. If the Palestinians want reconstruction, they have to demand that Hamas stop digging tunnels under their homes, and stop buying Katyushas, Kassams or explosives instead of provisions," he said.
Also Thursday, Olmert approved the transfer of NIS 175m. to Gaza banks from PA coffers in the West Bank. The funds are intended to pay January salaries for PA workers in Gaza.
While the move has been criticized by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak on the grounds that it could end up enriching Hamas, Olmert has defended the move on legal grounds, saying the funds are PA monies that cannot be blocked by Israel. Such transfers are made monthly, with December's receiving the approval of Barak himself, according to the Prime Minister's Office.
"Just to clarify, this is a technical transfer of currency in accordance with international agreements to which Israel is a party," a spokesman for the PMO told the Post on Thursday. "This money belongs to the PA, not Israel."
The PA continues to pay salaries to its former workers in the Gaza Strip to keep them from joining the Hamas government or security forces.
AP contributed to this report.