Hamas, Israel blamed for obstructing Gaza recovery

By Nidal al-Mughrabi,BERNAMA,

GAZA : The United Nations accused Hamas on Wednesday of seizing aid from one of its Gaza warehouses and the European Union complained Israel was obstructing the entry of needed goods, deepening doubts about post-war reconstruction.

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A day after a shaky truce appeared on the brink of collapse — and less than a week before an Israeli election — Israeli forces and Hamas fighters held fire across the border, breathing life into an Egyptian drive for a longer-term ceasefire.

But the power struggle within the Palestinian territory took what Western aid officials described as a worrying turn.

The Israeli army also offered regrets, though rejected blame, for one of the most high-profile incidents of civilian deaths during its 22-day offensive, in which 1,300 Palestinians were killed. It called the actions of a tank crew whose shells killed three young daughters of a Gaza doctor “reasonable”.

The deaths of hundreds of civilians have led to calls for investigations of possible war crimes, while the bloodshed and widespread destruction in the enclave have ignited a power struggle between rival Palestinian factions over rebuilding.

For the first time since a de facto truce went into effect on Jan. 18, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) said Hamas policemen seized more than 400 food parcels and 3,500 blankets it had planned to distribute to 500 families in a Palestinian refugee camp in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas Welfare Minister Ahmed al-Kurd denied the charge and accused UNRWA, which cares for much of Gaza’s population of 1.5 million, of lacking “neutrality and transparency”.


Last week, the agency expanded its aid roster to include employees of the Palestinian Authority, which answers to Hamas’s rival, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of the Fatah faction.

Since Hamas won a 2006 parliamentary election and seized control of the Gaza Strip 18 months later, Abbas, with Western backing, has sought to reassert his authority.

As part of that effort, Abbas’s government, based in the West Bank city of Ramallah, announced on Wednesday a $600 million reconstruction programme for the Gaza Strip.

The United States and the European Union want the benefits of rebuilding to accrue to Abbas, who is committed to peace talks with Israel, rather than to Iranian-backed Hamas, which is shunned by Western powers for refusing to renounce violence and recognise the Jewish state.

But is unclear how soon reconstruction will get under way, both because of Hamas’s opposition and Israel’s resistance to letting in building supplies like steel and cement that have potential military uses.

Israeli restrictions have raised the ire of EU leaders, who complained of “obstacles” to needed shipments.

“Your government gave us assurances regarding access of humanitarian aid and aid workers to the Gaza Strip,” they wrote in a Feb. 2 letter to Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defence Minister Ehud Barak.

“Since then we have not witnessed much improvement.”


Israel admitted one of its tanks killed three girls whose father, a Hebrew-speaking gynaecologist well known on Israeli television, had made an appeal for help after the shelling in a live broadcast that shocked Israeli viewers.

The Israel Defence Forces said in a statement: “The IDF is saddened by the harm caused to the Aboul Aish family, but at the same time states that considering the constraints of the battle scene … the force’s action and the decision to fire towards the building were reasonable.”

Outgoing prime minister Ehud Olmert said he had wept on hearing the doctor’s cries of pain for his dead children.

The army has yet to give the findings of inquiries into other incidents, including the deaths of more than 40 Palestinians sheltering at a United Nations school, an event that triggered international condemnation but generated less coverage in Israel, where most voters supported the offensive.

The election on Tuesday, triggered by Olmert’s resignation in a corruption scandal, seems likely to see a rightward shift, with polls showing Benjamin Netanyahu’s opposition Likud party taking the most seats and so leading a new coalition.

Netanyahu strongly backed the decision by the centrist Olmert and his Labour allies to mount the offensive. In a speech on Wednesday, highlighting what he said was a nuclear threat from Hamas’s backers in Tehran, Netanyahu said:

“If we want to end the threat of rockets from Gaza, there is no escape from uprooting … Iran’s regime in Gaza.”