The senior official briefed us on the humanitarian aid transfer to Gaza in general, as well as the specifics of the aid from the flotilla ships.
"On a daily basis 80-100 trucks with humanitarian aid enters Gaza via Israel. The aid is not only medical supplies, but also contains supplies that support a wide range of important infrastructure projects, including water, sewage, and electrical power. We [COGAT] coordinate our efforts with UNRWA, UNESCO, WHO, UNICEF and we even help facilitate the transfer of toys and the enabling of mobile swimming pools for Gazan summer camps.
So far, we have loaded 21 trucks worth of aid from the flotilla and it appears there will between 70-80 trucks worth of aid. Its difficult to ascertain the amount of supplies because the aid was not loaded in an orderly manner onto the ships in crates, cartons or containers -- but was haphazardly dumped in.
As of now, there are 8 trucks at the Israeli - Gaza border crossing of Kerem Shalom; 7 of which contain medical equipment for the disabled and elderly, including 100 electric mobility scooters and hundreds of wheelchairs.
Unfortunately, the disabled, sick and elderly in Gaza are denied this aid, because Hamas has forbidden anyone in Gaza to coordinate the distribution of this equipment.
Hamas has stated that until every last one of the flotilla activists have returned to their home countries, they will refuse to allow the aid to enter Gaza."
Questions from bloggers:
Q: How does this equipment normally get distributed?
A: The PA in Ramallah represents the private sector in Gaza and coordinates the distribution via the humanitarian organizations.
Q: How much aid does the flotilla represent, compared to the usual aid flowing into Gaza via Israel?
A: About 1 day's worth.
Q: What sort of aid is on the ships?
A: Clothes and shoes, though its not clear if they are new or used. Medicine, medical equipment. Its difficult to know because it was all randomly thrown into the belly of the ships.
Q: If its urgent for all this humanitarian aid to get into Gaza, why is Hamas not allowing it in?
A: We (COGAT) have even asked the Red Cross to help with distributing the medical equipment, yet they have refused to get involved. We have 13 trucks waiting in Israel, not including the 9 at the Keren Shalom crossing, and we're just waiting to send it in.
Q: Has the date of the aid medication that arrived via the flotilla, expired?
A: So far, we (COGAT) have located two types of medication. An unlabeled cough syrup of some sort, which expired this past April, and children's paracetamol (liquid acetaminophen) which expires this coming July (a month away).
Q: Slate magazine wrote a highly critical article against Israel's handling of this flotilla and the Gaza embargo in general. They wrote specifically that:
However, the execution of the policy [of the embargo] has been unreasonably draconian. Israeli officials take so long to inspect the cargo that medicines often expire by the time they reach Palestinian patients.
How long does it take COGAT to inspect and transfer medicines; what is the average turnaround time?
A: The average turn around time is 2 weeks. We need to ensure the medicine meets international health standards. Often, the medicines arrive, having already expired, or they arrive in packaging in a foreign language that no one here in the region knows, let alone the people in Gaza.
Slate Magazine should speak with the UN health organizations that were responsible for distributing the medical aid from the "Free Gaza" organization after the Cast Lead operation.
The vast majority of the medicine received was useless.
Update; The following is a statement received from COGAT's spokesman regarding the blockade and the transfer of humanitarian aid to Gaza:
The policy of transferring merchandise into the Gaza Strip is implemented in accordance with existing Israeli policy, as determined by the Cabinet's decision of September 19, 2007, following Hamas's hostile seizure of the Gaza Strip.
The ongoing transfer of goods into Gaza is aimed at providing for the basic needs of the residents of the territories while preventing strengthening Hamas, either militarily or governmentally. Hamas engages in hostile activity against the State of Israel and its citizens and holds an IDF soldier captive without reason or justification.
According to the policy, humanitarian products, are delivered on a daily bases to the Strip. Food products are delivered almost without restriction - with the exception of luxury goods, which the average Gazan cannot afford, but which are purchased by the wealthy and corrupt leaders of Hamas. Additionally, hygiene products, medical equipment, medicine and essential infrastructure products (for water, sewage, electricity and communication systems) are transferred into the Gaza Strip. Raw materials, however, are not permitted since they can be used for military purposes, although exceptions have been made for humanitarian needs.
The entry of "dual -use" equipment (equipment which, while intended for use by civilian systems, can be exploited by terrorists) has been prevented, with the exception of special humanitarian cases.
Requests to transfer goods are received by the Palestinian Civilian Economic Council in Gaza and by the international community. The process of determining the daily entry of goods is made with the Palestinian civilian economic council, and priority is given to the delivery of medical supplies and medication, essential infrastructure equipment and basic products and donations from the international community. The type and range of the remaining goods for any given day are decided by the Palestinian Civilian Economic Council in Gaza.
A forum, headed by a senior officer from the Coordination of Government Activity in the Territories and representatives from international organizations meets weekly to review and expedite unique requests. The variety of food products permitted has expanded recently and changes from time to time, with consideration to the changing needs of the Palestinian population. With the help of various international organizations, a large quantity of products for the welfare of children and adolescents (including educational materials, toys and children's clothing) has entered the Strip.
The result of the current policies is that theirs a wide inventory and scale of food products, medical equipment and medications. Any allegations to the contrary are baseless; these facts are well-documented in UN agencies' official reports.
Also, recently, Israel has supported sewage projects in the strip, as a humanitarian gesture for the people of Gaza, in cooperation with the UN and the international community, and in coordination with the Palestinian Authority.
The COGAT system employs hundreds of soldiers and civilians with unique and extensive knowledge of the Gaza Strip, and their main duty is to follow and assess the humanitarian situation in the Strip and respond to any problems. Gaza DCO (District Coordinators Office) personnel work continuously to accomplish their mission, despite the many security threats against DCO facilities and crossings. They face serious threats including rocket fire and terrorist attacks, like the one on June 8th 2009 when terrorists attacked next to the Nahal Oz fuel terminal.
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