U.N.: Israel destroyed WFP food warehouse

By WILLIAM M. REILLY  |  Dec. 2, 2002 at 3:03 PM
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UNITED NATIONS, Dec. 2 (UPI) -- U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan was concerned at Israel's demolition of a World Food Program warehouse in the northern part of the Gaza Strip over the weekend, a spokesman said Monday.

"He supports the request by WFP that the government of Israel thoroughly investigate this incident," which occurred Saturday night, Annan's chief spokesman, Fred Eckhard, said.

"The secretary-general once again calls on the Israeli authorities to live up to their commitments and obligations to facilitate emergency humanitarian assistance in the occupied Palestinian territory."

The Rome-based WFP in Jerusalem urged the Israeli government "to observe humanitarian principles" and compensate the agency for its losses.

The U.N. agency said 537 metric tons of food aid, valued at $271,000, was being stored in Jaballah.

Jean-Luc Siblot, WFP country director, said the organization was not permitted to remove the food.

"The food, which was housed on the ground floor of a three-story building and clearly marked as WFP property, mainly comprised donations from the European Commission and Sweden and was to be distributed by the Ministry of Social Affairs to some 41,300 destitute people affected by the ongoing humanitarian crises in the Gaza Strip," he said.

The WFP release said that at about 10:50 p.m. Saturday Israeli troops surrounded the area and parked six tanks in front of the building. They requested residents to evacuate their homes before entering the building and searching the premises.

"Despite the fact that the storage area was well marked as a WFP warehouse, with a large WFP flag and three WFP stickers on the doors, the soldiers proceeded to destroy the doors of the warehouse using tanks," the agency said.

The building's owner saw dynamite sticks being placed in various parts and several blasts were heard at approximately midnight. These were followed by a large explosion from a projectile dropped from a helicopter.

"The building collapsed and everything left in it, including 413 metric tons of wheat flour, 107 metric tons of rice and 17 metric tons of vegetable oil, was destroyed," the agency said.

Siblot said the WFP should have been permitted to remove the food.

"This act has been carried out against basic humanitarian principles," he said.

He said WFP was asking Israel to investigate "and take full responsibility for the losses incurred by the agency."

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