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Hamas stole aid meant for Gaza's needy, U.N. agency says

UNRWA says Hamas police officers broke into a warehouse in the Gaza Strip and took food and blankets after aid workers refused to hand them over.

February 05, 2009|Ashraf Khalil

CAIRO — The United Nations on Wednesday accused the militant group Hamas of breaking into a Gaza Strip warehouse and stealing food and blankets intended for distribution to 500 needy families.

Armed Hamas police officers Tuesday broke into the warehouse in the Beach refugee camp in Gaza City and confiscated more than 3,500 blankets and 400 food parcels, the U.N. Relief and Works Agency said.

The officers entered the warehouse shortly after humanitarian aid workers had refused to hand over the supplies to the Hamas-run Ministry of Social Affairs, UNRWA spokesman Christopher Gunness said.

"They came and tried to take it and then they came back and took it by force," Gunness said in an interview. "We have protested to the local authorities."

In a statement, the agency said it "condemns in the strongest terms the confiscation of its aid supplies and has demanded that it is returned immediately."

Ahmad Kurd, a ministry official, said the U.N. was providing aid to local groups associated with Hamas opponents, according to the Associated Press. The ministry said the U.N. was storing blankets in an unauthorized area.

UNRWA was created in 1949 to provide assistance to Palestinian refugees left homeless after the creation of Israel. The agency provides food and other aid to more than half the Gaza Strip's population of 1.5 million.

The dispute reflects a larger argument over who will control the flow of aid, supplies and funding needed to help Gaza rebuild after the recent 22-day Israeli offensive aimed at ending years of Hamas rocket attacks on southern Israeli cities.

Hamas officials have said they are open to multiple agencies, governments and organizations participating in the reconstruction process -- even the rival Fatah faction, which controls the Palestinian Authority and the West Bank.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad on Wednesday announced the creation of a $600-million fund to rebuild the estimated 5,000 homes destroyed during Israel's offensive. Most of the money will be contributed by wealthy donor nations.

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ashraf.khalil@latimes.com

Special correspondents Maher Abukhater in Ramallah, West Bank, and Rushdi abu Alouf in Gaza City contributed to this report.

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