UN: Hamas stole from Gaza warehouse

John Ging: Thousands of aid items taken by force; Herzog: Hamas makes Gazans' lives miserable.

gaza aid flour 248.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
gaza aid flour 248.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Armed Hamas policemen broke into a Gaza City warehouse and took thousands of blankets and hundreds of food packages intended for UNRWA refugees, an official from the relief agency said on Wednesday. The incident took place on Tuesday after the Social Affairs Ministry tried to confiscate food and other supplies that were being transported to UNRWA's storage facilities and the agency's staff resisted, said John Ging, the organization's operations director in the Gaza Strip. A few Hamas policemen took 3,500 blankets and more than 400 food packages prepared for distribution from an UNRWA warehouse on Tuesday afternoon, he said. "They took it under gunpoint," Ging told The Jerusalem Post from the UNRWA headquarters in Gaza City. "My staff had resisted earlier the confiscation of the convoy, as they are absolutely instructed to do... Compliments to them for that, but unfortunately, later, they came and took it by gunpoint. "We are very upset about this," he said. "This is stealing aid destined for the refugees. We have demanded that it be returned." The agency has communicated with Hamas officials regarding its demand, but had not received a response as of Wednesday afternoon, Ging said. "We expect to get the aid back," he said. "This aid is for the refugees, not for anybody else, not for any political parties. This aid was donated to us, through us, for the refuges, and we have to have integrity for the aid effort here in Gaza." Over the past month the IDF said on several occasions that Hamas had stolen humanitarian assistance designated for Gazan civilians. Wednesday was the first time the UN admitted that such a theft had occurred. An IDF official said the army noticed such thefts during Operation Cast Lead last month when, despite the fighting, Israel allowed almost 80 trucks a day into the Strip. Nuaf Atar, a Fatah man captured during the offensive, told the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) that Hamas government officials "took over" humanitarian aid Israel allowed in and sold it, when it was supposed to be distributed for free. Ging said Wednesday's incident was the first time that Hamas had stolen food or supplies from UNRWA and that he hoped it would be the last. Ahmad Kurd, the Hamas Minister of Social Affairs, did not deny the aid seizure, saying the UN was giving the aid to local groups with ties to Hamas opponents. "UNRWA did not do what it said it would do, and began distributing its aid to groups that tie their activities to political activism," Kurd said. Hamas spokesman Taher Nunu demanded an apology and said UNRWA was "spreading false news." Interior Ministry spokesman Ihab Ghussein said the incident occurred because the UN was "storing the blankets in an area not authorized [for distribution]." Alix de Mauny, a spokeswoman for the European Commission, which contributed $626 million to Palestinian in 2008, said, "We are very concerned, but this is an isolated incident, we hope. We will react accordingly if this develops beyond an isolated incident." Hamas has distributed $50m. in emergency relief to Gazans and promised additional cash payments in hardship cases. The Palestinian Authority government is also sending funds. PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad said Wednesday his government would donate $600m. to help Gazans rebuild. Fayad said the money would be channeled through commercial banks directly to recipients, bypassing Hamas, and that he expected to be reimbursed by international donors. Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog, who oversees humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, said the theft from UNRWA was "further proof that Hamas is continuing to make life miserable for the population of Gaza and will use any means to intensify its suffering." During Operation Cast Lead, "Hamas leaders worried about their own welfare and security while totally neglecting the population," Herzog said in a statement. Israel would continue to demand that any aid transferred to the Strip be "directed to the welfare of the civilian population only," he said. Tovah Lazaroff, Elana Kirsh and AP contributed to this report.