Al Arish / PNN - Scores of boys and women rushed to the Al Arish stadium in great anticipation, not to watch a sporting event but to take part in the looting of hundreds of tons of aid meant for the people of Gaza but due to be burned by authorities.
The closure of the Rafah crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip has left thousands of needy Palestinians without access to aid as the area remains besieged by Israel. This leaves some aid intended for Gazans unfit for distribution due to lack of proper storage.
The Egyptians have faced criticism, as have the Israelis, for the siege on Gaza and the prevention of the introduction of aid. Bread has molded waiting to pass through an Israeli-controlled crossing while Egypt is now planning to burn what it will not send in.
The Egyptian police force says it is unable to respond to the robbery, and witnesses have reported that workers at the sports stadium could do nothing. At the break of dawn yesterday a few boys entered the stadium followed by the flow of dozens of people forcibly entering the site, taking whatever loot they could get from the piles of aid left out in the open.
Although Egyptian opposition parties have criticized the conduct of the people of Al Arish, the people themselves say that they witnessed the theft and sale of the aid by security personnel. This accusation was denied by officials.
One eyewitness told Islam Online, "The poor boys have robbed a large part of the aid stockpiled since last January." The witness then burst into tears, but would not disclose the cause of the outburst. It could be due to an overwhelming feeling of injustice, postulated Islam Online yesterday, since the aid that has been taken was needed for the impoverished of Gaza, and also that the people of Sinai are themselves poor and desperate.
Another witness said, "The limited number of police officers who were present backed away after some of the boys pelted them with stones. We tried to call the police back, but they did not respond... what happened is tragic."
One of the boys, carrying a small sack of rice on his shoulder, stated in response: "We are not thieves…this attack is one against the poor of Al Arish. Why should we not benefit from such aid, since it has been assembled here to be burned? We are simply the first to do anything about it." Another boy, running away with a heavy load, said, "We carry what we can find, whether it is rice flour, oil and cheese, or clothes and blankets."
Police have refused to comment on the situation and suggested that what happened was an attempt by some of the boys to take advantage of the aid before it was burned. This adds another dimension to the tragic incident, as much of the aid was already damaged and the food spoiled and unfit for human use.
It was not possible to contact North Sinai Governor Mohamed Shousha Brigade or the Red Crescent official. Both offices were not responding to calls made by Islam Online.
Burning the aid
The Egyptian government plans to carry the remainder of the aid to the desert for burning. Much of the aid has been spoiled because it is unable to reach its destination, leaving destruction as the only option.
Sources added that "the specialized committees of health and the environment, along with other security and administrative bodies, have in the past two days been examining the aid. They have determined what is unfit for use and issued certificates for disposal by burning under the supervision of the specialized agencies and in full confidentiality." But delays in the burning of the aid has left it open to looting.
The source continued to say that the Egyptian Red Crescent reported that the total remaining aid to the 1.5 million people of Gaza is about one and a half tons. The majority of the aid is food and clothing and was collected from several Egyptian cities and sent to the town of Al Arish to be packaged for transport.
The aid also came from international sources including many Arab countries and included rice, canned meat, milk, blankets and clothing bales.
The Israeli occupation authorities refused to allow part of the aid through the Rafah crossing because it no longer conformed to regulations as its distribution had been delayed for so long. The list of banned products includes chocolate, coffee and paper.
The same source admitted that a large amount of the aid has become damaged or has already been burned, without referring to when it was destroyed or the amount. They would only say that a small percentage of it “classified to be destroyed.”
Aid has been piled in the open air without protection from the sun in the Al Arish sports stadium in the northern Sinai. It was piled carelessly next to the bathroom, and took up space in a sports center meant to be used by the city's youth, described Islam Online Wednesday. During February and March it was also exposed to rain which caused considerable damage.
Early May saw the burning of 250 tons of humanitarian aid meant for the people of the Gaza Strip. It was said to be burned after it has become damaged, and included canned food. This aid had been awaiting distribution in Al Arish since it was sent during the major Israeli attacks this January. During this time the infrastructure of Gaza was severely damaged, and this, along with the destruction of the Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) food store, made it very difficult to get aid to the people.
The Egyptian authorities placed blame on the people who need the aid by condemning the Palestinian government’s failure to distribute the aid in the Gaza Strip. Ahmed Kurd, Minister of Social Affairs, stated, “At a time when a tight siege is imposed on the Gaza Strip, we had hoped that the distribution of these materials would go to relieve the besieged Palestinian people." He asked, "Which is more important, for the aid to enter the Gaza Strip or for it to be distributed properly?”
The international community was largely united in efforts to send aid to Gaza during the recent major attacks that killed 1,400 Palestinians and injured some 5,000. Arab peoples and the world in general came together to send food aid, medicine and to set up field hospitals under the supervision of civil organizations, trade unions and humanitarian organizations. The government of the Egyptian town of Al Arish had agreed to open up road, sea and air routes in preparation of transferring the aid to Gaza through the Rafah crossing.
However, Egyptian authorities have rerouted the stream of food aid to the stadium after the Israelis would only allow medical assistance through the Rafah border crossing.
But even still the Israelis then balked at all aid. In February they did facilitate the transit of some goods, allowing for approximately 300 tons per week to get through. This was not considered nearly enough for the amount of damage done and the number of those in need.
Yet this did allow for the distribution of large quantities of assistance sent by Muslim and Arab countries. The Egyptian authorities have alluded to the possibility of distributing the aid that to Palestinians stranded on the Egyptian side of Rafah crossing, but this has not been done.
The citizens of Egyptian Al Arish have been severely affected by the Israeli siege imposed on Palestinian Gaza, and the failure to open the Rafah crossing on a regular basis. Many of the traders had before sold goods to the Palestinians who came from Gaza to shop before the imposition of the blockade. After Hamas won the elections in 2005, the Israelis tightened the screws of control, further disrupting the economic life of the region.
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