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Middle East
UN awaits return of Gaza aid
Hamas says seizure of 10 lorries carrying rice and flour supplies was a "mistake".
Last Modified: 07 Feb 2009 15:26 GMT

The Gaza Strip's 1.5 million citizens rely
on aid to survive [File: AFP]

The UN Relief and Works Agency (Unrwa) has said that it is still waiting for the promised return of aid to the Gaza Strip it says was taken by Hamas.

Unrwa, which provides food aid for many Gazans who rely on it to survive, said that it would not consider the incident over until the aid - 200 tonnes of rice and flour - had been given back.

The agency said it had stopped importing aid into the Gaza Strip after 10 lorries loaded with humanitarian supplies were seized by Hamas members at Gaza's Kerem Shalom crossing on Friday.

Hamas, the de facto government in the Gaza Strip, said that the aid was "mistakenly" taken and that the incident would not be repeated.

A Gaza-based spokesman for the UN said that the agency had been told on Saturday afternoon that the aid would be returned later in the day. 

It was the second time this week that Hamas members had seized aid supplies after 3,500 blankets and 400 food parcels were taken from an Unrwa at gunpoint on Tuesday, the UN agency said.

'Big misunderstanding'

Al Jazeera's Mike Kirsch, reporting from Gaza City, said: "Hamas officials are saying this whole thing is just a big misunderstanding.

"They are saying that the 10 trucks that were intercepted ... they believed was aid coming from Hamas, from the ministry of social affairs, that was on the Israeli border, in effect that the trucks got mixed up with the UN trucks.

"Until we get all of this aid back, and until we receive credible assurances from the Hamas government, the suspension of our imports of aid into Gaza will continue"

Christopher Gunness,
Unrwa spokesman

"And what has since happened is that Hamas has received documentation from the UN that verifies that these trucks belonged to the UN and Hamas is now saying these trucks will be returned on Saturday."

Christopher Gunness, an Unrwa spokesman, told Al Jazeera that UN aid shipments into Gaza will not restart until all the aid seized by Hamas is returned.

"Until we get all of this aid back, and until we receive credible assurances from the Hamas government, the suspension of our imports of aid into Gaza will continue," he said.

"Let me make one thing clear, we have some supplies in Gaza, we are going to continue with those distributions those are not suspended."

Gaza is in the midst of a humanitarian crisis. An economic blockade imposed by Israel for the past 18 months has crippled its economy and caused severe food and medicine shortages.

Israel's 22-day long assault on the Palestinian territory has worsened the situation further, forcing many Palestinians to live on handouts.

Hamas complaints

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Ahmed Yousef, a senior Hamas offical, said: "Our relationship with Unrwa is a strategic one. There are some mistakes that have been committed by some people."

He said steps were being taken to resolve the issue.

A senior Hamas leader, however, had earlier in the week accused Unrwa of indulging in discrimination in its distribution of aid.

Ahmed al-Kurd, the Hamas government's social affairs minister in Gaza, had demanded that aid be distributed more "widely and fairly".

Unrwa only provides assistance to those Palestinians holding refugee status.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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