Israel accuses UN of undercounting humanitarian aid trucks entering Gaza

Officials say UNRWA counting trucks it picks up, not those that enter, while OCHA claims Israel sending only half-filled vehicles; Cyprus says aid sea route to reopen soon

Armed and masked Palestinians seen on trucks loaded with international humanitarian aid entering Gaza through Israel's Kerem Shalom crossing, into southern Gaza on April 3, 2024. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
Armed and masked Palestinians seen on trucks loaded with international humanitarian aid entering Gaza through Israel's Kerem Shalom crossing, into southern Gaza on April 3, 2024. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Israel has accused the United Nations of undercounting aid entering Gaza, saying on Wednesday that the UN was using a flawed approach meant to conceal its own distribution difficulties, amid growing pressure on Israel to let in more relief supplies.

Meanwhile, Cyprus said Wednesday that aid shipments via sea to Gaza are expected to resume soon, after they were halted last week following an Israeli airstrike that killed seven workers with the World Central Kitchen humanitarian agency.

While Israel says the number of trucks entering Gaza has risen sharply in recent days, the UN has provided much lower figures, and says it is still far less than the amount required to meet humanitarian needs.

Six months into Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza, triggered by the terror group’s October 7 massacre, the majority of Gaza’s estimated 2.3 million population is homeless, parts of the enclave are said to face famine, civilian infrastructure has been devastated and disease is widespread.

Israel said that 419 trucks entered the Gaza Strip on Monday, but the main UN agency there, UNRWA, said only 223 trucks came in on that day. UNRWA faced a wave of global funding cuts after Israel provided evidence that at least 12 of its staffers in the Strip took part in the October 7 assault on southern Israel, and Israeli officials have long accused the agency of having close ties to Hamas, teaching incitement against Israel in schools and even turning a blind eye to the construction of a large Hamas data center underneath its Gaza City headquarters.

Both COGAT, the Defense Ministry body responsible for aid transfers, and UN agencies have said that the discrepancy in numbers results from different ways of counting.

Trucks carrying humanitarian aid make their way along a street in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on March 10, 2024. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

“The UN’s incorrect numbers are a result of their flawed counting method. Rather than counting the actual number of trucks that enter the Gaza Strip, in an attempt to conceal their logistical distribution difficulties, they only count the trucks that they have picked up from the Gazan side of the border,” COGAT said in a statement.

On Tuesday, Jens Laerke, the spokesperson for the UN humanitarian agency OCHA, said the Israeli count was for trucks that were only partially filled, to comply with its military’s screening requirements.

“COGAT counts what they screen and send across the border. We count trucks that arrive in our warehouses,” Laerke said.

“Trucks that go in, screened by COGAT, are typically only half full. That is a requirement that they have put in place for screening purposes. When we count the trucks on the other side, when they have been reloaded, they are full,” he said.

Laerke said that other Israeli restrictions mean the trucks often do not move through the border and into warehouses in a single day, further complicating a clear count.

“Egyptian drivers and trucks can never be in the same area at the same time as Palestinian drivers and trucks. That means there is not a smooth handover. First, everything has to come in, has to be offloaded, everybody has to go out, before a new set of trucks from inside Gaza with Palestinian plates, with vetted Palestinian drivers, can go in and pick it up,” he said.

As the pressure to increase aid mounts, Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides said Wednesday that shipments from his country to Gaza are expected to resume soon, as the island nation is storing about 1,000 tons of aid destined for Gaza that has been sitting there since WCK paused its operations.

The US plans to set up a dock, with a target date of May 1, on Gaza’s Mediterranean coast that will enable aid deliveries which will be pre-screened in Cyprus, with Israeli oversight.

The Open Arms vessel which ferried food rations provided by aid group World Central Kitchen and slated for the Gaza Strip, is docked in the port of Larnaca on the southern coast of Cyprus on April 3, 2024. (Etienne Torbey/AFP)

“We are in communication with countries we have worked with from the outset, so that very soon humanitarian aid from Cyprus will resume after the completion of the US project in Gaza,” Christodoulides said.

The World Central Kitchen had been operational in Gaza since October, using land, air and more recently the sea, to get aid into the enclave to supply its network of more than 60 community kitchens. Workers were mid-way into unloading a second shipment of aid through the Cyprus route when their three-vehicle convoy was hit by Israeli strikes.

Israel has apologized for the incident, which the IDF has insisted was a “tragic mistake.” The military dismissed the two officers responsible and formally reprimanded senior commanders after an inquiry, but WCK head Jose Andres has stressed that an independent investigation is necessary.

After WCK announced its pause in operations, a convoy of ships taking part in the mission returned to Cyprus on April 3 with undelivered aid. Initially at anchorage, the ship carrying food was brought to port for offloading after bad weather in Cyprus this week.

“The plan is to store the aid until WCK decides what it wants to do,” a Cypriot official told Reuters.

It is not clear who will be responsible for distributing aid received at the dock in Gaza if WCK does not resume its operations in the Strip, as American officials have said that the US will not be involved in any distribution efforts.

Israel has been seeking to sideline UNRWA from having a major role in the Strip, and had been hoping WCK would play a more prominent role before the deadly airstrike on its convoy.

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