GAZA CITY (AFP) — The United Nations said it would suspend aid distribution in the Gaza Strip on Thursday until Israel allows in new fuel supplies, but Israel blamed the shortages on Hamas which controls the besieged territory.
"We are hours away from shutting down our operation," said John Ging, who heads the UN Relief and Works Agency office (UNRWA) in Gaza. "We didn't receive fuel," he told AFP.
UNRWA and the World Food Programme, which feed more than a million Gazans, will have to suspend aid distribution until they receive diesel for the trucks that deliver the supplies, Ging said.
Israel, which maintains a punishing blockade on the impoverished Palestinian territory, claimed the Islamist Hamas movement was preventing distribution of one million litres of fuel (260,000 gallons) delivered about a week ago to the Nahal Oz terminal on the Gaza border.
"Hamas has prevented the use of this fuel stocked for humanitarian purposes such as ambulances, generators, hospitals and water pumps," said foreign ministry spokesman Arye Mekel. "Hamas is creating an artificial and dishonest crisis."
An Israeli military spokesman said it was impossible to deliver any more fuel until existing supplies are picked up.
"We have no room -- the tanks are full," he said, adding that recently delivered fuel was stocked on the Palestinian side of the Nahal Oz terminal, which supplies all of Gaza's fuel needs.
Ging said the stored fuel was not destined for UNRWA. UN agencies in Gaza buy their own fuel supplies, which also have to be brought in from Israel through Nahal Oz.
"Everyone is doing what they can but Nahal Oz is closed on the Israeli side," he said.
Ging said Israel promised to supply 100,000 litres of diesel and 20,000 litres of petrol to the United Nations, but that by Thursday afternoon the fuel had not been delivered.
"It is unacceptable that the UN should find itself having to consider suspending its humanitarian operations simply for a lack of fuel for its vehicles," EU Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Louis Michel said in a statement.
"It is also unacceptable that public services such as garbage collection, sewage treatment or hospitals are at the brink of collapse for the same reason," Michel added.
Israel halted the supply of petrol and diesel and cut fuel supplies for Gaza's power plant by half after Palestinian militants attacked Nahal Oz two weeks ago, killing two Israeli civilian employees.
It resumed shipments of fuel for the power plant several days later, but again halted the deliveries for several days after another attack killed three Israeli soldiers near the crossing.
Israel has sealed the Gaza Strip off from all but vital humanitarian aid since Hamas, an Islamist movement pledged to the destruction of the Jewish state, seized control of the territory last June.
Robert Serry, the UN's special envoy to the Middle East peace process, on Wednesday urged Palestinian militants stop attacking border crossings and called on Israel to lift its blockade on the territory.
Humanitarian agencies say Gaza, one of the world's most densely populated areas with 1.5 million people living in a narrow sliver of land, is teetering on the brink of disaster.
Israel says the sanctions it applies are necessary to pressure Hamas to end near-daily rocket attacks on Israeli communities and military positions near the fenced-off border.
The situation in Gaza was highlighted on Wednesday at a UN Security Council session in New York that saw Western ambassadors walk out in protest after the Libyan delegate compared conditions in the strip to those in Nazi death camps.
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