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Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
04TELAVIV2042
2004-04-02 16:06:00
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Tel Aviv
Cable title:  

COGAT SAYS UNRWA-IDF CONTAINER DISPUTE MAY BE SOON

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						C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TEL AVIV 002042 

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/02/2009
TAGS: EAID ECON KWBG PREF PREL GZ IS GAZA DISENGAGEMENT ISRAELI PALESTINIAN AFFAIRS HUMANITARIAN AID
SUBJECT: COGAT SAYS UNRWA-IDF CONTAINER DISPUTE MAY BE SOON
RESOLVED

REF: TEL AVIV 1911

Classified By: Pol/C Norm Olsen, per 1.4(b) and (d).

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TEL AVIV 002042

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/02/2009
TAGS: EAID ECON KWBG PREF PREL GZ IS GAZA DISENGAGEMENT ISRAELI PALESTINIAN AFFAIRS HUMANITARIAN AID
SUBJECT: COGAT SAYS UNRWA-IDF CONTAINER DISPUTE MAY BE SOON
RESOLVED

REF: TEL AVIV 1911

Classified By: Pol/C Norm Olsen, per 1.4(b) and (d).


1. (C) Summary: UNRWA April 1 announced the suspension of
its emergency food distribution program in the Gaza Strip.
UNRWA Deputy Director of Operations in Gaza, Krister Nordahl
confirmed to Poloff April 2 that UNRWA, frustrated by what it
sees as the IDF's refusal to find any interim measures to
check outgoing shipping containers (reftel), refused in turn
to import more food to replace now-exhausted stocks until the
problem is resolved. The IDF has blocked all containers
leaving Gaza since two suicide bombers used a hidden
compartment in a container to smuggle themselves out of Gaza
and into Ashdod, killing 10 Israelis. COGAT representative
Daniel Beaudoin assured ECON/C the evening of April 1 and
again on April 2, however, that the IDF's new security
systems would be in place o/a April 4 at the Karni Crossing,
thus allowing at least some of UNRWA's empty containers to
exit the Gaza Strip and the food program to re-start.
Although differences remain between the two sides as to the
number of containers that will be allowed, at least
initially, out through Karni, if the COGAT date of April 4 is
met, the negative impact of the suspension on beneficiaries
should be minimal. End Summary.

--------------
UNRWA Suspends Food Program in Gaza
--------------


2. (C) UNRWA announced April 1 the suspension of its
emergency food aid program in the Gaza Strip due to the GOI's
continuing refusal to allow the movement of empty shipping
containers out of Gaza. The problem, which had been building
since two Gaza suicide bombers smuggled themselves into
Ashdod port March 14 and killed 10 Israelis, came to a head
March 26 when UN agencies first went public (reftel). A
series of discussions between GOI and UNRWA officials the
week of March 29 failed to resolve the issue, according to

Krister Nordahl, UNRWA Deputy Director of Operations in Gaza.
Nordahl confirmed to Poloff April 2 that, although the IDF
will/will allow UNRWA food containers to be shipped into
Gaza, the IDF (citing the double suicide bombing at Ashdod)
was still not/not allowing any containers -- empty or
otherwise -- to be shipped back out until improved security
measures are in place at Karni Terminal and IDF staff receive
the appropriate training in their use. Nordahl said that, in
light of the IDF's position and the demurrage charges
accruing from blocked containers, UNRWA had no choice but to
cease imports.

-------------- --------------
Situation Not Yet Catastrophic, and Might be Resolved Soon
-------------- --------------


3. (C) Nordahl explained, however, that not all 600,000
UNRWA emergency food beneficiaries (128,000 families) would
be affected immediately. The food distribution cycle rotates
over a 45-day period; those who received their food parcels
in the last cycle would be fine for the next 45 days.
Furthermore, Nordahl said he had been told the evening of
April 1 by COGAT that the GOI expected to have the improved
systems in place o/a April 4, after which five shipping
containers per day could exit through Karni. The program
requires the importation, however, of 20 containers (250 tons
of foodstuff) per day to meet beneficiaries' needs.

--------------
COGAT Working to Fix the Problem
--------------


4. (C) Daniel Beaudoin, head of the COGAT's Foreign
Relations Branch, confirmed to ECON/C on April 1 that the IDF
was hoping to have new security systems in place at Karni
within days and that the IDF is in the process of training
personnel to screen the empty containers. When ECON/C
contacted Beaudoin again April 2, he said the new screening
would definitely begin Sunday, April 4. He said he did not
know how many containers would be released per day, but
insisted "it would be more than five." Beaudoin
acknowledged that UNRWA needed the release of 20 containers
per day to do its job adequately.

--------------
Comment
--------------


5. (C) UNRWA has drawn the battle lines clearly on this
issue and is holding firm in its position vis-a-vis the IDF:
no new containers to go in until the IDF lets the empties
out. UNRWA was frustrated by what it saw as the IDF's
refusal to find any interim measures, such as visual
inspection of the simple plate steel containers. By going
public and increasing the pressure, UNRWA clearly hopes to
force the GOI to act, and may have at least partially
accomplished this if COGAT's assurances to us are any
indication. UNRWA seems satisfied -- for the moment -- with
COGAT's assurance that the containers will begin moving no
later than April 4, and thus the negative impact on
beneficiaries will be relatively small. If that date should
slip or the number of shipping containers remains severely
limited, however, that negative impact would rapidly
increase.


6. (U) UNRWA Press Release.

Begin Text of UNRWA April 1 Press Release:

UNRWA suspends emergency food aid to Gaza

Gaza - The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for
Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) today stopped distributing
emergency food aid to some 600,000 refugees in the Gaza
Strip, or approximately half of the refugees receiving UNRWA
food aid in the occupied Palestinian territory, following
restrictions introduced by Israeli authorities at the sole
commercial crossing through which the Agency is able to bring
in humanitarian assistance. Stocks of rice, flour, cooking
oil and other essential foodstuffs that UNRWA provides to
refugees reduced to poverty, or otherwise affected by a
humanitarian crisis now in its 42nd month, have been fully
depleted.

Efforts to persuade the Israeli authorities to lift the
restriction on the transport of UNRWA's empty food containers
out of Gaza have so far failed, forcing the Agency to suspend
the delivery into Gaza of 11,000 tons of food from Ashdod
port to avoid a bottleneck which would result in prohibitive
costs. Under normal circumstances, UNRWA delivers some 250
tons of food per day in Gaza alone as part of a wider program
of emergency assistance to refugees, initiated shortly after
the outbreak of strife in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in
September 2000. Since then, the Gaza Strip has been locked
into a deep socio-economic crisis resulting from the
prolonged closure of its border with Israel, the destruction
of thousands of homes as well as of agricultural and local
industrial assets. Almost two out of three households in
Gaza live below the poverty line, and more than half its
work force is unemployed.

UNRWA is not alone in facing chronic obstacles to the flow of
humanitarian assistance. These have been experienced by all
UN agencies operating in the West Bank and Gaza, whose Agency
heads in a joint statement on March 26 called, without
success, on the GOI to loosen the restrictions currently in
force in Gaza.

UNRWA Commissioner-General Peter Hansen said: "The suspension
of UNRWA's emergency food aid in the Gaza Strip will further
distress communities already struggling to cope with
unrelieved economic hardship and malnutrition. If the new
restrictions in Gaza continue, I fear we could see real
hunger emerge for the first time in two generations.
Israel's legitimate, and serious, security concerns will not
be served by hindering the emergency relief work of the
United Nations. I appeal to the authorities to lift these
restrictions and enable us to resume our food distributions
in Gaza."

End text of UNRWA press release.

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