Wednesday, February 04, 2009

UNRWA has refused to hand the humanitarian aid it has received to the Hamas-ruled ministry of social welfare

Gaza City/Ramallah - Police affiliated with the Islamic Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip forcibly seized 3,500 blankets and 406 food packages earmarked for hundreds of poor Gaza Strip families, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) charged Wednesday. The aid, sent to the Gaza Strip in the wake of Israel's fierce three-week offensive against militants in the salient, which ended on January 18 and left thousands of people homeless, was taken from an UNRWA station in the Shatti beach refugee camp on Tuesday night, the organization said in a statement. It added that it "strongly condemned the confiscation" and demanded that the aid, intended for approximately 500 families, be returned at once. The seizure marked the first time Hamas had seized UN aid, UNRWA said. However, Israeli officials have charged that during the Israeli operation Hamas gunmen routinely seized humanitarian aid allowed into the enclave. Hamas and its security forces have administered and controlled the Gaza Strip since June 2007, when they routed security forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. But UNRWA has refused to hand the humanitarian aid it has received to the Hamas-ruled ministry of social welfare, saying that it has a "strict system" of monitoring aid deliveries to ensure it reaches its intended recipients. Acting Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad meanwhile said Wednesday that reconstruction of homes in the Gaza Strip destroyed in the Israeli military assault last month will start immediately, with a 600-million-dollar fund provided by donors and banks. He announced at a meeting in Ramallah that the Palestinian Authority (PA), which has had no control over the Gaza Strip since the Hamas seizure in June 2007, has launched an emergency programme to rebuild all destroyed and damaged homes in the Gaza Strip as a result of the 22-day Israeli military assault. He said the 600 million dollars will be raised mainly by donor countries and administered by banks, which will award grants or soft loans to people who lost a house. Early Palestinian estimates put the damage caused by the Israeli assault to the Gaza Strip at over two billion dollars. Egypt plans to hold a donors conference in early March to raise money for rebuilding the Gaza Strip. This programme, said Fayyad, will not exclude anyone, an obvious reference to Hamas members whose homes were also destroyed in Israeli air, sea and land strikes. Hamas also said it will carry out reconstruction of the Gaza Strip and that it will provide 5,000 dollars for each family who lost a home and 2,500 dollars for those whose homes were partially destroyed. It will also give families of victims 1,200 dollars per dead member and 600 for each one injured. Hamas says it should be involved with coordination of the reconstruction, but the donors, mainly Europeans and some Arab countries, insist they will only work through the PA or international organizations. Fayyad said his government has already transferred six million dollars as emergency aid to families of Palestinians killed in the assault and for health institutions. In addition, the PA will contribute 50 million dollars from its own resources to help United Nations organizations continue in their relief efforts, mainly for providing temporary shelter for people who lost their homes. The PA will also provide 11 million dollars to rehabilitate the power lines and generators destroyed in the strikes and six million dollars for repairing water and sewage lines. "Our people in the Gaza Strip are waiting for help to rebuild their homes or at least ease some of their difficulty until this is done," said Fayyad, describing the situation in the Gaza Strip as "an unprecedented human catastrophe." He said people who now live on the rubble of their homes are not going to wait until the PA and Hamas resolve their differences before they get any relief.

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