GAZA CITY (AFP) — The United Nations was on Saturday awaiting the promised return of hundreds of tonnes of food aid for Gaza "mistakenly" seized by Hamas, as the Islamists insisted the crisis is over.
But UNRWA, the main agency for Palestinian refugees, said the incident will not be considered "over" until all 200 tonnes of rice and flour have been returned and Hamas has guaranteed the situation will not be repeated.
In the wake of the incident, the UN agency suspended all imports of aid into the Gaza Strip.
At a meeting late on Friday, Gaza's health minister Bassem Naim assured UNWRA chief Karen Abu Zayd that such a situation would not occur again, Hamas spokesman Taher al-Nunu told AFP on Saturday.
"He promised there would not be any more incidents like that," Nunu said.
"The crisis is over."
Despite Naim's assurances, UNRWA said the aid had still not been returned by Saturday evening. The agency "had been told it would receive all the goods later in the day," a Gaza-based spokesman told AFP.
"We need to look at actions on the ground and that is the important barometer for resolving this issue," said Christopher Gunness, another UNRWA spokesman.
The foodstuffs, which were loaded onto 10 lorries, were seized on Thursday from the Palestinian side of the Kerem Shalom crossing in south Gaza in the second such incident within three days -- prompting a sharp rebuke from UN chief Ban Ki-moon.
Hamas promptly said it would return the goods, saying the incident had been "a mistake" caused by confusion at the border crossing.
It was the second time an UNRWA aid shipment had been seized in Gaza, prompting the UN chief to rap Hamas over the knuckles for interferring with the distribution of humanitarian aid.
"The Secretary General demands that Hamas immediately release the UNRWA consignment of humanitarian goods it seized today, in the second such incident this week," Ban's spokeswoman Michele Montas said on Friday.
Ban said Hamas must "refrain from interference with the provision and distribution of humanitarian assistance in Gaza."
Hamas social affairs minister Ahmed al-Kurd ordered any supplies belonging to UNRWA to be returned, while insisting the incident was caused by confusion.
"The aid supplies were loaded onto trucks by mistake as no government representative was present. The drivers did not know which supplies were UNRWA's and which were the government's," Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum told AFP.
On Tuesday, UNRWA said 3,500 blankets and more than 400 food parcels had been seized at gunpoint from a distribution store in a Gaza City refugee camp.
Israel's Social Affairs Minister Yitzak Herzog was quoted by public radio as saying the incident proved what Israel had been saying throughout its massive operation in Gaza last month -- that Hamas was stealing humanitarian aid.
UNRWA plays a key role in distributing aid in Gaza, and is currently trying to deliver food assistance to some 900,000 people out of a population of 1.5 million.
Aid deliveries are particularly pressing at the moment as the population struggles to cope with the consequences of Israel's crushing military assault on the coastal enclave which left more than 1,300 dead and razed over 14,000 homes.
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