The Hamas government in Gaza has said it is trying to help thousands of Palestinians who lost their homes and/or loved ones in the 22-day Israeli offensive which ended on 18 January. According to deputy minister of social affairs, Sobhi Redwan, Hamas has so far spent an estimated US$50 million on emergency relief assistance, but more aid is needed.
Scores of men have been queueing up outside the deputy minister’s office to try to persuade officials they need emergency food assistance and have not received any aid from the UN or other agencies.
“We are supplying all people in Gaza who are in need. It is the government’s duty to provide relief during and after the war,” Redwan told IRIN on 11 February.
The government has formed a “national high committee for relief” comprised of representatives from all Gaza factions except Fatah. “The goal of the committee is to provide assistance equally to all those who are suffering,” Loay Qaryuout, committee spokesperson and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine representative on the committee, told IRIN.
Hamas has drawn up lists of potential and actual beneficiaries in order to make aid distribution effective and fair, explained spokesperson Qaryuout.
Hamas has also asked international and local aid organisations, including UNRWA (the UN agency for Palestinian affairs), to coordinate relief efforts with the government.
About 900,000 Palestinians have asked UNRWA for food aid.
“In general UNRWA donates food to refugees and the World Food Programme to non-refugees, although there has been some overlap since the war,” UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness told IRIN by phone from Jerusalem.
Since Hamas took over in Gaza in June 2007, the Israeli and international blockade has meant Hamas has had to seek the funds with which to run the enclave by unconventional means – using secret tunnels along the Gaza-Egypt border, the services of local middlemen, and money changers with affiliates in Amman and Cairo, to obtain the cash they need.
Some 4,000 Gazans whose homes were completely destroyed have so far received about US$5,000 each from the government. Another 4,000, whose homes were partially destroyed, have received about $2,500 each, he said.
Some 4,000 homes were destroyed and about 17,000 badly damaged during the war, according to a recent UN Gaza flash appeal.
The government was providing about $1,300 to families who had suffered the loss of loved ones; injured people were getting about $650 each, said Redwan.
Hamas said it had also distributed a one-off relief payment of $100 to 80,000 social hardship cases on 11 February.
Ala (he did not want to give his full name), aged 37, a Fatah supporter from Gaza City, received $100 from the government for his wife and four children.
“It helps for a few days. We need milk and pampers (diapers) for the children, which are now expensive,” said Ala. But he said he lacked the funds to repair damaged water tanks on the roof of his home and replace broken windows.
The government said it had distributed an emergency food package – including basic items like sugar, oil, rice, flour, tea, and tinned food – to nearly all families whose homes were destroyed. These families had also received thin mats for sleeping on, and blankets.
A one-off food distribution, including flour and tinned food, was also made by the government to 30,000 people whose homes were partially destroyed.
Before the hostilities, over 50 percent of the population were living below the poverty line and 42 percent were unemployed.