UN agency demands immediate return of seized Gaza aid

UNRWA staff in the West Bank Field Office pack blankets for Gaza

4 February 2009 – The United Nations agency tasked with assisting Palestinian refugees today demanded the return of relief items confiscated by police, who broke into one of its warehouses in Gaza and seized the supplies after UN staff refused to hand them over to the Hamas-run Ministry of Social Affairs.

"UNRWA condemns in the strongest terms the confiscation of its aid supplies and has demanded that it is returned immediately,” according to a news release issued by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.

The supplies were confiscated yesterday afternoon from a distribution store UNRWA condemns in the strongest terms the confiscation of its aid supplies and has demanded that it is returned immediatelyat Beach Camp in Gaza by police personnel, after UNRWA staff had earlier refused to hand them over to the Hamas-run Ministry of Social Affairs.

“The police subsequently broke into the warehouse and seized the aid by force,” said UNRWA.

UN Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes also demanded that the aid confiscated by Hamas personnel be returned immediately, condemning what took place yesterday as unacceptable. “The United Nations cannot accept under any circumstances the diversion of aid by a party to a conflict,” he said in a statement.

Mr. Holmes stressed that while the UN and its partners are doing their utmost to provide for the basic humanitarian needs of 1.4 million civilians affected by the recent 22-day Israeli military operation, such actions could jeopardize the provision of aid.

UNRWA said it has a strict system of monitoring aid delivery and ensuring that its assistance reaches only the intended beneficiaries. “Our officials were on the ground overseeing the delivery of our aid and taking all possible steps to avoid its diversion,” the Agency said.

The supplies were due to be distributed to 500 families in the area, which was heavily bombed during the Israeli military offensive launched with the stated aim of ending Hamas rocket attacks into Israel.

The operation killed some 1,300 Palestinians, injured more than 5,300, 34 per cent of them children, and caused widespread damage and destruction in the Gaza Strip.

An initial survey, conducted by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) estimates that over 14,000 homes, 68 government buildings and 31 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) premises have been totally or partially damaged. As a result, UNDP estimates that 600,000 tons of concrete rubble will need to be removed.

“This is a top priority,” Jens Toyberg-Frandzen, UNDP Special Representative in the occupied Palestinian territory, said in a news release.

“The rubble is mixed with poisonous harmful materials and may include unexploded ordnances. It needs to be urgently removed to protect the lives of Palestinians in Gaza and to facilitate immediate access to basic humanitarian and social services.”

The UN and its partners are seeking $613 million to aid in the relief and recovery efforts in Gaza. As part of that appeal, UNDP is requesting some $49 million, more than half of which is allocated for rubble removal while other projects will focus on reviving the agriculture sector and the reconstruction and rehabilitation of water reservoirs in the Strip.

“The scope of work is immense and we have a responsibility to help the people of Gaza get back on the path of sustainable human development,” said Mr. Toyberg-Frandzen.

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