Israel slams UN 'provocation' at Erez

Trucks arrive at Gaza crossing without receiving OK; UNRWA to improve aid audits over Israeli fears.

john holmes UN 248 88 AP (photo credit: AP)
john holmes UN 248 88 AP
(photo credit: AP)
The office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories slammed UNRWA on Monday and accused the United Nations organization of creating a provocation at the Kerem Shalom crossing by bringing trucks to it carrying supplies that had not been approved by Israel for entry into the Gaza Strip. On Monday, the Kerem Shalom crossing was opened for the delivery of humanitarian supplies to Gaza, including some 50 trucks with supplies provided by UNRWA. The night before, UNRWA had asked the Gaza Coordination and Liaison Administration to permit the transfer of paper and plastic bags to Gaza, and had been told the request was under consideration. Despite not having received approval, UNRWA, COGAT officials said, drove several trucks carrying the supplies from Jerusalem to the crossing and coordinated their arrival with several media outlets, which filmed the trucks being turned away. COGAT Spokesman Maj. Peter Lerner called the incident a "regretful provocation" by the UNRWA spokesman's office and added that while Israel may eventually approve the transfer of office supplies to Gaza, it was currently focusing on humanitarian aid. "UNRWA receives preferential treatment at the crossings, and today alone 50 of its trucks were allowed in," Lerner said. "What was done was wrong and not in accordance with the working relationship that Israel has with UNRWA." UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said the organization's schools in Gaza, which opened last week, only had 60 percent of the needed textbooks and that the paper was needed to fill the gap. "We are running schools for 200,000 kids in Gaza and we have said for weeks that we would need to get it in, and it is entirely predictable since our school term starts at a certain time and therefore it is really strange that anybody should be surprised that we raised this issue," Gunness said. Meanwhile, the UN tried to ease Israeli concerns about relief aid being diverted to Hamas by saying it would try to strengthen its control over goods entering Gaza. UN humanitarian chief John Holmes said he was unaware of any instances in which international aid had been misappropriated. But he told reporters in Geneva at the launch of the UN's $613 million emergency appeal for the Palestinian territory that there have been stories about aid getting diverted to Hamas. "There are concerns by Israel in particular about things like construction materials, cement, pipes [and] other kinds of equipment which they believe could be diverted to military uses," Holmes said, mentioning the construction of bunkers or rocket launchers. The UN is asking donor governments to provide $613m. for emergency relief. A quarter of that money is for food aid, $119m. is for shelter and non-food items and the rest will go to education, health and reconstruction projects. So far the UN has received $82m. Holmes said the improved audits would be part of the UN's effort to convince Israel to fully reopen its crossing points with Gaza, so that humanitarian aid and commercial goods could be brought in, along with cash so salaries could be paid. "Without that, the best we can do is simply allow the Palestinian population of Gaza to exist, to survive, but not to live or to construct for the future in any meaningful way," he said. The UN will also consider asking Israel for compensation for damage caused to its buildings in Gaza during the fighting, he said. Several UN schools and other facilities were damaged, including the main warehouse of UNRWA, which coordinates much of the aid work in Gaza. "We're still waiting for the results of Israeli investigations," said Holmes. "We'll be mounting our own investigations into that, and then I'm sure the question of compensation will arise." "What happened, according to [Israel], were mistakes, although when your own headquarters compound is bombed or shelled over a period of hours, it's something more than a mistake, I think," UNRWA commissioner Karen Abu Zayd said. AP contributed to this report.