Amir Mizroch , THE JERUSALEM POST
Who killed a Palestinian humanitarian aid truck driver and wounded two others as their convoy made its way into the Gaza Strip through the Erez crossing during Thursday's 'humanitarian ceasefire'?
According to the foreign media, who based their information on UN sources, IDF tank shells blasted the truck. According to the Magen David Adom medic who said he evacuated the Palestinians to an Israeli hospital, the truck came under Hamas sniper fire. The medic, who asked not to be named, said he got his information from soldiers in the field. The IDF Spokesperson's Office has not been able to provide a response or establish contact with the relevant sources in the field.
Adding to the confusion, the Palestinian Red Crescent said it evacuated the Palestinians, but the MDA medic said soldiers told him they went in, with great risk to themselves, and evacuated the wounded Palestinians. What is certain is that there is one dead Palestinian, and two others being treated at Ashkelon's Barzilai Hospital with gunshot wounds to the chest.
The incident occurred Thursday afternoon at the Erez crossing into the northern Gaza Strip, the main entrance used by humanitarian aid agencies to funnel badly needed food and medical supplies into Gaza.
As a result of the incident, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in the Gaza Strip said it was suspending operations relating to the collection and distribution of humanitarian aid.
But here too there seems to be confusion.
Richard Miron, the chief UN spokesman in Israel, told The Jerusalem Post that UNRWA was not suspending all of its operations, but just those relating to humanitarian aid.
"It's too dangerous and our staff are not safe," Miron said, adding that UNRWA would still be operating its schools and other centers in Gaza.
Miron's comments to the Post came after Adnan Abu Hasna, the agency's Gaza-based spokesman, said that UNRWA decided to suspend all its operations in the Gaza Strip because of the increasing hostile actions against its premises and personnel.
Earlier, Miron was quoted by the Timesonline website as saying that the IDF had been notified in advance about the UNRWA convoy, "which was hit as it approached the Erez crossing with Israel."
Miron later told the Post that the UN was not sure in which direction the truck was traveling in when it was struck, either into or out of the Gaza Strip. Miron added that the UN believes the incident was caused by an IDF tank shell.
He went on to say that the UN was not looking to assign blame on either side, but was rather trying to make sure humanitarian aid got to the people who needed it, and that attacks on humanitarian convoys from any source had to stop.
The incident highlights the dangers involved in sending aid convoys through the crossings into the Gaza Strip. It also shows that the IDF Spokesperson's Office is not always able to respond in good time to incidents of this nature.
For at least seven hours, the international media were quoting a version of events which claimed the Palestinian truck drivers were killed by an Israeli shell.
The IDF Spokesperson's Office began fielding calls regarding the incident from the foreign press at about 12 p.m. Thursday, and by 7 p.m. had still not been able to get a clear answer from IDF Southern Command. Peter Lerner, a defense ministry spokesperson who responds to the international press about humanitarian issues, said, six hours after the event, that he was not aware of the incident at Erez Crossing and referred queries to the IDF.
The driver and two others, Palestinian civilians contracted by the UN, suffered gunshot wounds to the chest and upper body, the MDA said.
According to a MDA medic who evacuated the Palestinians, and who said he spoke to troops at the Erez Crossing, IDF soldiers, at great risk to themselves, evacuated the wounded Palestinians to the Israeli side of the border, where medics pronounced one of the Palestinians dead on the scene.
The two others were evacuated to Ashkelon's Barzilai Hospital for treatment.
The soldiers told the medic that the Palestinian civilians were shot by Hamas gunmen, the MDA medic, who asked not to be named, told the Post
On Wednesday, Israel agreed to suspend offensive operations in Gaza for three hours between 1 p.m and 4 p.m. to allow humanitarian aid convoys into Gaza and for Gazans to be able to collect supplies.
Hamas resumed firing rockets promptly at 4 p.m. Wednesday.
Apart from the sniper fire, on Thursday, Hamas terrorists fired mortar shells at Israeli communities in the Gaza envelope not long after the day's humanitarian ceasefire had begun.
Defense Ministry spokesman Peter Lerner told The Jerusalem Post that Israel would continue to allow humanitarian aid convoys into the Gaza Strip, despite the threat of shooting and hijacking of those convoys by Hamas. Lerner added that the convoys and humanitarian ceasefires were an integral part of the IDF's operations in Gaza to show that "the Palestinian people are not our enemy, Hamas is."
Lerner said that while a small amount of humanitarian aid was pilfered by Hamas, the majority of it was getting through to Palestinian civilians.
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