UN to deliver Gaza aid seized by Israel

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The Independent Online

The United Nations will take to Gaza tons of aid supplies languishing in an Israeli port for two weeks since they were seized in a bloody sea confrontation, the Israeli military said.

Robert Serry, the UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, told the UN Security Council in New York that Israel agreed to release the cargo "on the understanding that it is for the United Nations to determine its appropriate humanitarian use in Gaza".

The military said the aid, taken from a six-ship Gaza-bound flotilla, would fill 70 trucks.

Up to now, the Hamas rulers of Gaza refused to accept the aid as a protest against Israel's three-year blockade of the territory. Hamas had no comment on the arrangement, under which the UN would take charge of seeing that the aid would be used in authorised humanitarian projects.

The Israeli military statement noted that Israel offered to let the flotilla land at an Israeli port, and then transfer the aid overland to Gaza after inspection, but flotilla organisers refused.

The May 31 raid on the flotilla, when Israeli commandos clashed with pro-Palestinian activists and killed nine, focused world attention on the blockade and its dire effects on Gaza's 1.5 million people. Israel has been under intense international pressure to ease or lift the embargo since the clash.

With Egypt's cooperation, Israel blockaded Gaza by land and sea since Hamas overran Gaza three years ago.

The embargos allowed in little more than food, medicine and basic humanitarian goods, causing Gaza's already depressed economy to grind to a standstill. The embargo was meant to keep out weapons that would be turned on Israel, weaken the Hamas government and pressure militants to release an Israeli soldier who has been held for four years.

It bans building supplies like concrete from entering Gaza, on the ground that Hamas could use such materials to build fortifications.

Israel's top-level Security Cabinet was set to meet today to discuss easing the blockade, senior officials said.

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