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Hamas Turns Blame from Israel to UNRWA

In another sign of tension between Hamas and the UN, Gaza's leaders shift blame for deaths from Israel to UNRWA.
By Maayana Miskin
First Publish: 9/4/2009, 1:08 PM

Flash 90

Gaza's Hamas leadership has blamed the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for causing “dozens” of deaths by allegedly withholding medical supplies. Previously, the deaths were blamed on Israel.

The Hamas Health Ministry accused the UN agency of failing to deliver needed medicine and equipment to hospitals. The issue came to light when Hamas officials went to a UNRWA warehouse to pick up supplies, ministry workers said.

“A group of staff from the Ministry of Health went to receive the medicine which was in the UNRWA warehouses near the Karni crossing. There were large quantities of medicines and medicinal equipment with labels indicating they were designated for the Palestinian Ministry of Health and for Ash-Shifa Hospital,” Hamas officials alleged Thursday.

UNRWA's failure to hand over the supplies “affected the lives of thousands of sick patients,” Hamas said in an official statement. UNRWA is preparing a response, and is expected to deny the charges.

Hamas continued to accuse Israel of causing a shortage of medical supplies as well. Israeli officials denied the claim.

Tensions over Holocaust Education
The accusation was the second allegation against UNRWA made in less than two weeks. A few days earlier, Hamas accused UNRWA of planning to teach children in Gaza about the Holocaust. Hamas demanded that UNRWA cancel the alleged lesson plan, saying, “We refuse to let our children study a lie invented by the Zionists.”

UNRWA officials hastened to deny that Gaza children would be taught about the Holocaust. “We focus on human rights in curriculum... we found that the Palestinians were deprived of many rights,” said UNRWA commissioner Karen Abu Zayd. UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said the Holocaust was not taught because it was not “age appropriate.”

Senior UNRWA official John Ging backed his colleagues in denying plans to teach Holocaust history. UNRWA has “no intention to integrate materials and topics that are inconsistent with the desire of Palestinian society,” he assured.

UNRWA runs many of Gaza's schools, and spends approximately 70 percent of its budget on education. Critics have slammed the agency for spending on education instead of rehabilitation and repatriation.