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Hamas Police Steal Humanitarian Aid from UNRWA

Hamas police raided an UNRWA warehouse in Gaza Tuesday night, stealing thousands of blankets and hundreds of food parcels from staff at gunpoint.
By Hana Levi Julian
First Publish: 2/4/2009, 2:27 PM / Last Update: 2/4/2009, 3:27 PM

Israel News Photo: Flash 90

Hamas police raided an UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) distribution store at Beach Camp in Gaza on Tuesday, stealing thousands of blankets and hundreds of food parcels from local staff at gunpoint.

"This took place after UNRWA staff had earlier refused to hand over the aid supplies to the Hamas-run Ministry of Social Affairs," explained Jerusalem-based UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness. "The police subsequently broke into the warehouse and seized the aid by force," he said.

The aid was due to be distributed to five hundred families in the area, said Gunness, who told Israel National News that Hamas police grabbed 3,500 blankets and 406 food parcels. "We were there, and we tried to stop them, but they were armed and we were not," he said, adding, "It's a very serious incident. We condemn it in the strongest terms and we demand that the aid be returned immediately."

This is not the first time that Hamas terrorists have stolen humanitarian aid supplies, according to the IDF, but Gunness maintained they had never before looted from UNRWA. "It's the first time that our aid has been confiscated," he said. Other U.N. groups also operate in Gaza.

The agency has distributed some 50,000 blankets and 12,000 food packages in Gaza to date. "Given that, this was a relatively small amount," Gunness said, "but that's not the point." He added that UNRWA has a strict system of monitoring aid delivery to ensure 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," Gunness said.

The aid distributed by UNRWA and other international organizations is meant for the thousands of impoverished residents who are homeless since the end of the IDF's counterterrorist Operation Cast Lead, and who have struggled under the harsh conditions that have existed since Hamas seized control of the region in June 2007.