Collapse of Gaza aid distribution just hours away: UN
Friday, 25 April 2008

AFP, GAZA CITY - The United Nations warned that aid distribution would end in the Gaza Strip on Thursday unless Israel allows new fuel supplies, but Israel blamed Hamas for the shortages.

"We are hours away from shutting down our operation, said John Ging, who heads the UN Relief and Works Agency office in Gaza. "We didn't receive fuel," he told AFP.

UN officials said UNRWA and the World Food Programme, who together feed more than one million Gazans, would have to suspend aid distribution until they receive diesel for the trucks that deliver the food.

Israel, which maintains a punishing blockade on the impoverished Palestinian territory, claimed Hamas was preventing distribution of one million litres of fuel (264,000 gallons) delivered about a week ago to the Nahal Oz terminal on the Gaza border.

"Hamas has prevented the use of this fuel, notably for humanitarian use," said foreign ministry spokesman Arye Mekel. "Hamas is creating an artificial and dishonest crisis." A military spokesman said it was impossible to deliver any more fuel until the existing supplies are picked up.

"We have no room; the tanks are full," he said, pointing out that recently delivered fuel was stocked on the Palestinian side of the Nahal Oz terminal, which supplies all of Gaza's fuel needs. But the UN agencies get their own supplies separately. "This is not our fuel," Ging said of the supplies currently stocked at Nahal Oz.

An UNRWA official said Israel promised to supply 100,000 litres of diesel and 20,000 litres of petrol for the United Nations on Thursday.

Israel halted the supply of petrol and diesel and cut fuel supplies for Gaza's power plant by half after Palestinian militants attacked Nahal Oz two weeks ago, killing two Israeli civilian employees.

It resumed shipments of fuel for the power plant several days later, but again halted the deliveries for several days after another attack killed three Israeli soldiers near the crossing.

Israel has sealed the impoverished territory off from all but vital humanitarian aid since Hamas, an Islamist movement pledged to the destruction of the Jewish state, seized control of the territory in June.

Robert Serry, the UN's special envoy to the Middle East peace process, on Wednesday urged Palestinian militants to halt their attacks on border crossings and called on Israel to lift its blockade on the territory.

Humanitarian agencies say Gaza, one of the world's most densely populated areas with 1.5 million people living in a narrow sliver of land, is teetering on the brink of disaster.

Israel says the sanctions are necessary to pressure Hamas to end near-daily rocket attacks on Israeli communities and military positions near the fenced-off border.

The situation in Gaza was taken up on Wednesday at a UN Security Council session in New York that saw Western ambassadors walk out in protest after the Libyan delegate compared the situation in the territory to that in Nazi death camps.

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