Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Update on hijacked Jordanian aid convoy (UPDATE 2)

Ma'an finally cover the story I broke this morning, although I still have not found any non-Arab media mentioning it:
The Jordanian news agency Petra reported on Tuesday that armed men held up an aid convoy after it crossed into the Gaza Strip.

The agency reported that armed men fired at the trucks and diverted them to private warehouses after they passed through the Kerem Shalom border crossing, an Israeli-controlled crossing used primarily for shipments of humanitarian aid.

The supplies had been donated by the Hashemite Jordanian charity organization. The trucks earlier crossed into the West Bank using the Allenby Bridge and then proceed to Gaza.

According to the report, the charity had coordinated in advance with UNRWA, the UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees, to receive the shipment in its warehouses after it entered Gaza.

Also according to the report, UNRWA has suspended other aid shipments as the trucks and drivers are still being held in Gaza. Negotiations are reportedly being held for their release.
Ma'an pointedly doesn't mention that it was Hamas that did this act, as Petra reported. (correction: PalPress reported it was Hamas, not Petra.)

I emailed to the UNRWA:
Mr. Gunness:

This morning the Petra news agency of Jordan reported that one or more
aid trucks from Jordan, meant for UNRWA,were hijacked at gunpoint by
Hamas. Does UNRWA have any comment?

How many times has this happened, to any NGO aid?

Has UNRWA ever condemned Hamas for such actions?

His answer ignored the last two questions and pushed off the first:
We are looking into this and I hope to have a reply for you soon. Chris
Keep in mind that Ban Ki Moon is in Gaza as this is happening, and he is silent on a direct attack on aid for the UN!

UPDATE: I replied back:

A appreciate any timely updates you can provide. Ma'an 's English version of the Petra report adds that negotiations are now underway with the apparent kidnappers and that UNRWA has suspended other aid shipments. Can you confirm that?

Meanwhile, could you answer the other questions I asked about any previous similar incidents you are aware of, and if the UNRWA has ever publicly condemned Hamas for these sorts of activities?

Thanks again

And Chris' reply was:
Not aware of any similar incidents -- indeed the Israelis in our regular co-ord meetings have praised our record on this -- so am slighly surprised by this alleged report. we have certainly not suspended any aid shipments. Not aware of any similar incidents in the past so no need to condemn anyone. C
I just replied back:

Thanks again for your reply.

The similar incidents that I have seen include:

January 6, 2009:
Reports say Hamas takes a cut out of all aid that arrives, including flour and medicine. Supplies intended to be distributed without gain among the population is seized by the group and sold to the residents, at a profit to the Hamas government.

One such incident was recorded Monday, when a convoy of trucks carrying supplies through the Kerem Shalom crossing was opened fire upon and seized by Hamas gunmen. Similar incidents occurred with trucks carrying fuel.

April 7, 2008:

Hamas militiamen in the Gaza Strip on Sunday attacked fuel trucks headed toward the Nahal Oz border crossing, forcing them to turn back, sources in the Palestinian Petroleum Authority said.

The fuel was supposed to go to the UN Relief and Works Agency [UNRWA] and hospitals in the Gaza Strip, the sources said.

"Dozens of Hamas militiamen hurled stones and opened fire at the trucks," the sources added. "The trucks were on their way to receive fuel supplied by Israel. The drivers were forced to turn back. Some of them had their windshields smashed."

February 7, 2008: Hamas policemen seized a convoy of humanitarian aid bound for the Palestinian Red Crescent on Thursday evening, the second convoy it has taken from the aid agency, aid employees said.

Policemen from Hamas halted 14 trucks filled with food and medicine at a checkpoint after it crossed an Israeli checkpoint into Gaza on Thursday, said employees of the Palestinian Red Crescent, who declined to be named, fearing reprisals from ruling group Hamas. A Hamas official said the aid was seized because the organization was distributing aid to former Fatah fighters and not to impoverished Palestinians.

Employees from the Red Crescent said they were meant to distribute the aid to some 8,000 needy Gaza residents from lists of people the organization keeps. The aid came from the organization's regional headquarters in Jordan, an employee said.

Are you saying that you were not aware of any of these incidents, or that each report was found to be false after investigation?

Thanks again,

UPDATE 2: Chris replied:
If u read the reports carefully (and I am not sure any of them r true) they don't include reports of unrwa aid being stolen. Can u send me a link to your site?
Which I did.

He is technically right; the only report that mentioned UNRWA mentioned an attack towards trucks going to Nahal Oz to pick up fuel for UNRWA, not stealing fuel meant for UNRWA. The other stories talked about aid meant for Red Crescent and unspecified aid, until today's story (which the UNRWA has not confirmed or denied yet and that Petra has not followed up on.)

It seems strange to doubt five stories of five separate incidents (including this one) from different sources all saying that Hamas interferes with aid, but since eyewitnesses who would out their words on the record would likely be killed by Hamas pretty quickly, the UNRWA can maintain plausible deniability about these reports.