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UN relief packages grabbed by Hamas

HAMAS police in Gaza broke into a warehouse full of United Nations humanitarian supplies and seized thousands of blankets and food parcels, a UN spokesman said yesterday, raising the possibility of a rupture between the organization that cares for most of Gaza's residents and the territory's militant rulers and threatening the flow of badly needed aid.

Christopher Gunness, a spokesman for the UN Relief and Works Agency, said Hamas policemen forced their way into an aid warehouse in Gaza City on Tuesday evening and confiscated 3,500 blankets and over 400 food parcels ready for distribution to 500 families.

"They were armed, they seized this, they took it by force," Gunness said, terming the incident "absolutely unacceptable."

Police confiscated the aid after UNRWA officials refused to voluntarily hand it over to the Hamas-run Ministry of Social Affairs, he said. Similar aid packages had already been distributed to 70,000 residents over the past two weeks.

Ahmad Kurd, the Hamas official in charge of the ministry, did not deny the seizure of the aid yesterday, claiming the UN was giving the aid to local groups with ties to Hamas opponents.

"UNRWA did not do what it said it would do, and began distributing its aid to groups that tie their activities to political activism," Kurd said.

UN officials said they were distributing the aid directly to local residents according to a list compiled by community leaders.

Tensions between the militant group and UNRWA could make it difficult for the international agency to continue providing desperately needed services.

The UN agency provides food, education and health care to more than half of Gaza's residents.

"We hope there are no implications for our aid work in Gaza," Gunness said.

Hamas officials said the UN was welcome to continue its operations. But the Hamas government demanded an "immediate apology" from the UN "for spreading false news," Hamas spokesman Taher Nunu said.


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