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Hamas theft halts UN aid to Gaza Strip

THE UN agency for Palestinian refugees said yesterday that it has halted all aid shipments into the Gaza Strip due to interference by the ruling Hamas militant group.

The UN Relief and Works Agency said it made the decision after Hamas personnel intercepted an aid shipment for the second time this week.

In a statement, UNRWA said 10 truckloads of flour and rice that had been delivered into Gaza on Thursday were taken away by trucks affiliated with the Hamas-run Ministry of Social Affairs. Earlier this week, Hamas police took thousands of blankets and food parcels meant for needy residents.

UNRWA said the suspension would remain in effect until the aid is returned and the agency receives credible assurances from the Hamas government that such thefts will end.

UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said the agency would continue to distribute aid from its existing supplies in Gaza, but that stocks were running thin.

"There is enough aid for days, not weeks," he said. Complicating the situation, he said the agency has not been able to import plastic bags used for food distribution, and that existing supplies will run out early next week.

Some 80 percent of Gaza's 1.4 million people rely on the UN agency for food and other support, and UN officials say the need for aid has increased since Israel ended a military offensive in Gaza last month.

In Gaza, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum called UNRWA's decision "unjustified."

He said Hamas supports UNRWA's work, but believes that some of the agency's employees were giving aid to groups attached to rival political parties.

"We as Hamas refuse all use of the people's needs for political ends," he said. He called on UNRWA "to put an end to using aid for political means, and to distribute it to all the needy equally."

The offensive, meant to halt years of Hamas rocket attacks on southern Israel, killed nearly 1,300 people and caused widespread destruction.

Also yesterday, Israel deported 15 activists from an aid ship it intercepted en route from Lebanon to Gaza.


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