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A lack of plastic bags could force UNRWA to halt its food distribution within Gaza as early as Monday, the organization's spokesman Christopher Gunness told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.
"After Sunday we will have no choice but to halt food distribution because we have no plastic bags," Gunness said.
His warning followed UNRWA's decision Friday to suspend humanitarian imports into the Gaza Strip until Hamas returns the 200 tons of supplies - including flour and other staples - that it stole from the aid organization on Thursday night.
"Now we have a double whammy," he said.
The suspension of imports, which was still in place on Sunday night, would not have impacted food distribution within the Strip if Israel had not stopped UNRWA from bringing the pellets necessary to produce plastic bags into Gaza last week, as part of restrictions on raw materials, Gunness said.
UNRWA supplies basic food supplies to 900,000 refugees in Gaza. Three bags are needed for each food hand-out, he said.
Maj. Peter Lerner, spokesman for the IDF Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, said Israel had prohibited raw materials from entering Gaza lest they fall into Hamas's hands. This was a real fear given that Hamas had twice stolen supplies from UNRWA last week, on Tuesday and on Thursday, Lerner said.
He noted that UNRWA could import plastic bags into Gaza and that plastic bags for other organizations go in almost every day.
"If they want to solve the problem and not be part of the problem they could produce plastic bags in the West Bank and bring them in," Lerner said.
Gunness said pellets were a compact and inexpensive way to bring bags into Gaza, as many more trucks would be needed to import the equivalent amount of bags. The use of pellets, which are then produced into bags in Gaza, also creates employment, said Gunness.
He added that some of the raw products that Israel was now prohibiting posed no danger, such as the 12 truckloads of paper that UNRWA has been unable to bring into Gaza.
"If you made a rocket out of paper it would be very floppy and if you made it out of a piece of plastic it would not very aerodynamically streamlined," Gunness said.
On Sunday, Israel allowed 88 trucks of humanitarian aid to enter Gaza through Kerem Shalom, 54 trucks of grain through Karni and 792,000 liters of heavy duty diesel through Nahal Oz.