UNRWA indicates Hamas stole supplies from its Gaza premises, then walks back claim

Now-deleted posts say Gaza’s rulers grabbed humanitarian supplies; UN, Israeli officials stress the incident did happen

Illustrative: Palestinian men carrying bread walk past damaged cars and debris in front of a school run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) following Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City on October 9, 2023. (Mahmud HAMS/AFP)
Illustrative: Palestinian men carrying bread walk past damaged cars and debris in front of a school run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) following Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City on October 9, 2023. (Mahmud HAMS/AFP)

The United Nations organization that works with Palestinian refugees and their descendants indicated Sunday that Hamas authorities in the Gaza Strip had stolen fuel and medical supplies meant for refugees from its premises in Gaza City, during the fighting triggered by the terror group’s deadly shock attack on Israel.

Shortly after posting the claim on X, UNRWA deleted the posts. It later asserted that nothing had been looted.

In its original statement, the agency said it had received reports that people claiming they were from the Hamas-run health ministry had loaded the supplies onto trucks. It said that “UNRWA fuel and other types of material are kept for strictly humanitarian purposes — any other use is strongly condemned.”

According to the organization, its officials were “compelled to evacuate” UNRWA headquarters in Gaza City on Friday and have since “had no access to the compound and no additional details about the removal of assets.” UNRWA added that cameras monitoring the facility ceased working after being damaged by “blasts from the conflict in previous days.”

After UNRWA deleted the posts on X, UN sources and Israeli officials confirmed to the Walla news site that the incident did occur.

But UNRWA later uploaded fresh tweets claiming otherwise.

“With regards to reports on social media of looting of an UNRWA warehouse,” it said, without mentioning the reports had been its own, “UNRWA would like to confirm that no looting has taken place in any of its warehouses in the Gaza Strip.”

It added: “The images circulating on social media were of a movement of basic medical supplies from the UNRWA warehouse to health partners.”

It did not detail who those partners were.

Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians, known by its initials COGAT, said Hamas stole 24,000 liters of fuel and medical supplies from UNRWA.

The Foreign Ministry mocked UNRWA for deleting the posts.

“Did Hamas also break into your Twitter account? Or are you just scared of disappointing your terrorist friends?” the ministry wrote on an X account it manages, known simply as “Israel.”

Israel has long pushed for UNRWA’s closure, arguing it helps perpetuate the conflict with the Palestinians, since it confers refugee status upon millions of descendants of those originally displaced around the time of Israel’s War of Independence in 1948.

Citing the since-deleted statement, Energy Minister Israel Katz called to halt aid to Gaza until Hamas is toppled, which the government has declared is its goal in the war.

“In other words — Hamas is robbing the ‘humanitarian aid’ to the Palestinian people. There’s no reason to give them anything until we eliminate the Nazi Hamas,” he said, a day after Israel announced it was restarting the supply of water to the southern portion of the Strip.

UNRWA was founded in the wake of the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 to serve hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who fled or were forced from their homes, and their descendants. Today, their numbers have grown to some 5.9 million people, most in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, as well as neighboring countries in the Middle East.

Israel disputes UNRWA’s policy of extending refugee status to the descendants of those who were expelled or who fled during the 1948 War of Independence, arguing that it is an anomaly in the UN’s treatment of refugees in general and that the agency should be closed.

Israel has also accused the UN agency of contributing to incitement against the Jewish state through its educational institutions and through support for violence by employees.

Smoke billows after an Israeli airstrike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on October 16, 2023. (Said Khatib/ AFP)

Also Monday, Israel’s Health Ministry hit out at the UN’s health agency for its response to the ongoing war that erupted after Hamas’s October 7 massacre, which saw at least 1,500 terrorists burst across the border into Israel from the Gaza Strip by land, air and sea, killing over 1,300 people and seizing some 200 hostages of all ages under the cover of a deluge of thousands of rockets fired at Israeli towns and cities.

The ministry’s statement came as the World Health Organization warned there were only “24 hours of water, electricity and fuel left” in the Gaza Strip before “a real catastrophe” sets in.

The Health Ministry responded that “as Hamas rampaged through Israeli towns murdering infants, raping women, and taking the sick and elderly hostage including Holocaust survivors, the WHO was largely focused on cessation of hostilities.

“Israel’s efforts to save lives by evacuating civilians from the conflict zone in northern Gaza has been perversely twisted and maligned in service of Hamas’s efforts to continue their use of Gaza’s civilians as human shields.

“The call for evacuation of civilians from the conflict zone is a measure to protect civilians despite Hamas’ efforts to endanger them,” it added.

WHO regional director for the Eastern Mediterranean Ahmed Al-Mandhari said the Strip must be allowed to receive convoys of aid, currently stuck at the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.

If assistance does not arrive, doctors will have to “prepare death certificates for their patients,” he said, talking with AFP.

Rockets are fired toward Israel from the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, October 16, 2023. (AP Photo/ Leo Correa)

For a third day, on Monday the Israel Defense Forces announced a safe corridor for people to move from north to south between the hours of 8 a.m. and 12 p.m., and said more than 600,000 people had already evacuated the Gaza City area.

The military repeated its warning to northern Gaza residents that they should “rest assured that Hamas leaders have taken care of themselves and their family members.”

The IDF says it is trying to clear away civilians ahead of a major campaign in the north of the enclave, where the terrorists have extensive networks of tunnels and rocket launchers.

However, Hamas has urged people to stay in their homes, and the Israeli military has released photos it said show Hamas roadblocks preventing traffic from moving south.

The military’s top spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, said Monday that Hamas was continuing to prevent Palestinians from evacuating from the northern part of the Gaza Strip.

An Israeli armored personnel carrier (APC) moves on a road towards the Gaza Strip border in southern Israel, October 16, 2023. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

Israel has massed forces outside Gaza in preparation for what the army has said would be a land, air and sea attack involving a “significant ground operation.”

The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry says at least 2,670 Palestinians have been killed and 9,600 wounded in Israeli retaliatory bombardments since the fighting erupted.

Israel has said the bodies of 1,500 terrorists were located around southern Israel.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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