The UN aid agency in Gaza says it has suspended all aid shipments, accusing the Hamas government of seizing hundreds of tonnes of food supplies.
Ten lorries carrying flour and rice were taken from the Palestinian side of the Kerem Shalom crossing, the UN's Relief and Works Agency (Unrwa) said.
Hamas admitted a "mistake" had been made and says it will return the goods.
But Unrwa says deliveries will not restart until it has assurances that such seizures will not happen again.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Hamas must immediately release the seized aid shipments.
He also called on Hamas "to refrain from interference with the provision and distribution of humanitarian assistance in Gaza".
Gaza is facing a humanitarian crisis after Israel's recent three-week offensive.
About half the population is dependent on UN food aid.
Israel intensified a blockade on the territory 19 months ago when Hamas took over the territory.
The lifting of the blockade is among Hamas' demands for agreeing a long-term truce with Israel.
On Friday, the group's exiled leader, Khaled Meshaal, told a rally in Syria that Israel still had not given the necessary undertakings for such a truce.
Unrwa said the food had been imported from Egypt, and had been due to be collected by its staff at the Kerem Shalom crossing in southern Gaza on Friday.
Palestinians queue for UN aid in Gaza
The UN had recently increased its food distribution to Gazans
"The food was taken away by trucks contracted by the ministry of social affairs," the agency said in a statement.
It said aid deliveries would only be resumed if Hamas returned all the aid and provided "credible assurances" that it would not happen again.
It was the second incident in three days. On Tuesday, 3,500 blankets and more than 400 food parcels were seized at gunpoint from a distribution centre in Gaza, the UN said.
The Hamas government's social affairs minister, Ahmed al Kurd, ordered "the aid to be returned to the agency if it turns out it is indeed its property", Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum said, according to AFP news agency.
He said no Hamas or Unrwa representatives had been present at the crossing when drivers loaded up the aid supplies, and the drivers had assumed they belonged to the Hamas government.
Although the UN, as an organisation, does not negotiate with Hamas, its relief agency in Gaza has to have some contact with the faction for practical reasons, says the BBC's Aleem Maqbool in Gaza City.
Earlier in the week, Mr Kurd warned Unrwa not to "become a political player in Gaza". He said all aid should be distributed through Hamas.
But Hamas's rapid attempt to rectify the situation - at least once Unrwa announced its suspension of imports publicly - suggests it does understand how crucial the UN's aid work is, our correspondent says.
Hamas itself has given very limited financial assistance to some of the thousands of Gazans whose homes were destroyed in the Israeli offensive.
The perception of many in the territory is that the group is only helping its own supporters, he adds.
The UN has increased its food distribution in recent weeks to cover 900,000 of Gaza's population of 1.5 million following Israel's offensive against Hamas that began in December.
The Robbing of Gaza
By Joseph Klein
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, February 09, 2009
In a rare admission of Hamas’ wrong-doing, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (“UNRWA”) promptly condemned Hamas in a sternly worded press release for seizing its humanitarian supplies by force on February 3, 2009. For once, UNRWA did not deem it necessary, in the name of moral equivalency, to attack Israel at the same time.
The UN Secretary General’s deputy spokesperson Marie Okabe reinforced UNRWA’s condemnation of Hamas by essentially paraphrasing its press release at a briefing held on February 4th at UN headquarters that I attended. I looked around at other peoples’ faces in the briefing room and some appeared as surprised as I was that, for the first time, we were witnessing UNRWA and the Secretary General’s office actually criticizing Hamas alone in such strong terms. However, the matter-of-factness with which the Secretary General’s deputy spokesperson read her statement " as opposed to the anger we always hear from UN spokespersons whenever Israel is criticized " conveyed a rather nonchalant attitude toward the whole thing as if it were an unfortunate but isolated event. Of course it is anything but.
The incident that brought this development about involved the confiscation of over 3500 blankets and 406 food parcels by police affiliated with Hamas, who broke into an UNRWA warehouse in the Shatti beach refugee camp and seized the aid supplies by force. The supplies were to be distributed by UNRWA to five hundred families in Gaza. The confiscation took place after UNRWA staff had earlier refused to accede to Hamas’ demand and hand over the aid supplies to the Hamas-run Ministry of Social Affairs. The reason for the refusal, UNRWA said, was to ensure that the assistance would actually reach the intended beneficiaries.
At the request of reporters attending Ms. Okabe's briefing, a follow-up press conference was set up at UN headquarters via video link the next day with John Ging, UNRWA’s Director of Operations in Gaza. Ging acknowledged that Hamas's seizure of UNRWA aid supplies was only making matters worse, saying that the incident had “crossed a red line”. However, he blamed it on "the reckless acts of a few", as if the ruling Hamas terrorist group were a reasonable organization that had temporarily lost control of a few hotheads. Ironically, not long after Ging was briefing reporters about the first incident, Hamas struck again. It seized 10 truckloads of flour and rice that had been delivered into Gaza, leading UNRWA to suspend all further aid shipments into Gaza until the Hamas government returns the stolen supplies and provides credible assurances that such thefts will end.
Just days before Hamas’ criminal seizure of UNRWA supplies, the United Nations had launched an international appeal for $613 million to help in Gaza recovery efforts. "With the help of this $613 million appeal, the United Nations and other aid agencies can jump into action to help the 1.4 million civilians in the Gaza Strip to recover," Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told a news conference on the situation in Gaza, speaking from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Unfortunately, the Secretary General’s deputy spokesperson was either unable or unwilling to acknowledge a connection between Hamas’ forceful assertion of control over the disposition of UNRWA aid supplies and concern over what Hamas would be likely to do in order to get its hands on the UN-raised Gaza aid money. She ducked a question at the press briefing on this very point.
The concern is not hypothetical. Hamas officials in the Gaza Strip and Syria have warned the international community against channeling funds intended for Gaza reconstruction projects through the Palestinian Authority. "Don't give the money to Ramallah," said Moussa Abu Marzouk, deputy chairman of the Hamas political bureau.
Hamas wants total control over all aid " supplies and money - in order to enhance its claims to legitimacy and to bestow favors to its supporters in Gaza while depriving its enemies of any assistance.
Hamas has no interest in relieving the suffering of the civilians under its rule. In fact, Hamas prevented its own people from reaching lsraeli medical facilities set up just outside Gaza. It has regularly intercepted humanitarian convoys and stolen food items that had been donated for free distribution to needy Gazans. Instead, they were sold in the black market. After using Palestinian civilians as human shields during the conflict with Israel, Hamas is now stealing aid intended for suffering women and children whose images Hamas wants to continue using for propaganda purposes.
A Fatah official denounced Hamas last month as a "black and bloody militia" that was responsible for the "catastrophe" in the Gaza Strip, as reported in the Jerusalem Post. This was a Palestinian speaking, not an Israeli citizen. The Fatah official, who wished to remain anonymous out of fear of reprisal, would like to see Hamas leaders Mahmoud Zahar and Ismail Haniyeh tried before a Palestinian court as "war criminals." The Hamas leaders, he charged, were responsible for the death of hundreds of innocent Palestinians. "Ever since they came to power, they brought death and destruction to our people."
When Hamas’ Palestinian brethren can connect the dots and see through Hamas’ exploitation of its own people, it is time for the United Nations to consider Hamas’ criminal seizure of UNRWA aid supplies as a wake-up call. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon must do everything possible to ensure that not a cent of money the UN raises for humanitarian aid and reconstruction in Gaza goes to Hamas or to any of its front organizations. Otherwise, it will not be long before the Secretary General’s spokesperson may have to read a statement during a press briefing about Hamas’ theft of hundreds of millions of dollars from the Palestinian people.