ISRAEL-OPT: Flotilla aid to enter Gaza under UN supervision

GAZA, 17 June 2010 (IRIN) - After intense diplomatic negotiation with Israel, the UN has agreed to oversee the transfer of 70 truck-loads of humanitarian aid that Israel seized from a flotilla of six ships on 31 May.

Thirty loaded trucks have been stuck at the Kerem Shalom crossing into the Gaza Strip, while another 40 truck-loads of aid are being stored in warehouses operated by the Israeli Coordination and Liaison Administration (CLA) for the Strip.

The trucks contain desperately needed medical supplies, such as hospital beds and wheelchairs, and building materials.

"The UN will take responsibility for the delivery of the aid cargo," Ahmed Yousef, deputy foreign minister of the Hamas-led government in Gaza, said. He added that some other international aid relief organizations would join the UN in the distribution process.

The Hamas government initially decided not to receive any of the flotilla's aid before the release of those passengers "kidnapped and held hostage" by Israel and not until all the flotilla's relief supplies were greenlighted to enter Gaza, Ghazi Hamad, head of borders and crossings under the Hamas-led government, told IRIN.

Ian Domintz, an official from the Israeli Prisons Authority spokesperson's office, said all the flotilla passengers had been released, including the four Israeli citizens.

According to an Israeli military security source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, "The CLA would allow all of the aid to enter Gaza if Fatah officials coordinate the entry of the aid and international organizations - like UNRWA [the UN Agency for Palestinian Refugees] - take responsibility for distributing the building materials."

Israel fears building materials could be used by militants for military purposes.

"Israel has no communication with Hamas, we speak to Fatah officials at the borders," said the Israeli security official.

According to the CLA, every day about 100 trucks are allowed to enter Gaza.

More than three-quarters of Gaza's 1.5 million residents are food-insecure or vulnerable to food insecurity, relying heavily on aid subsidies, according to the World Food Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organization.

Distribution dilemma

Negotiations are under way between the Turkish NGO Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (IHH) [http://www.ihh.org.tr/filistin/en/], which co-sponsored the flotilla aid ships, and UN agencies in Gaza as to who will control the aid distribution, said IHH deputy director Osama Obdo in Gaza.

"IHH headquarters agreed that the UN will coordinate the aid distribution and submitted a beneficiary list to UNSCO [UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process]," said Odbo, adding that IHH had concerns that material the organization shipped for specific purposes, such as heavy generators for Gaza municipality to operate public water wells, might instead be allotted to UN projects.

The Israeli government has decided to establish a committee to investigate the deadly raid against the Gaza-bound aid flotilla. Retired Israeli Supreme Court justice Jacob Turkel will head the committee to determine the legality of the Israeli navy's actions and of the Gaza blockade itself.