UNRWA’s Gaza security issues

Posted: November 5, 2010 by Rex Brynen in Gaza

According to an article in today’s Ha’aretz, Israel has finally given the go-ahead to upgrade the weapons of the small personal security detail that UNRWA operates in Gaza:

The defense establishment has taken the unusual step of granting the United Nations Relief and Works Agency approval to take four weapons into Gaza. The weapons, submachine guns, are to serve the security detail guarding the heads of the agency in Gaza.

The request to bring in the weapons was made three years ago and approved last week.

The director of UNRWA’s activities in Gaza, John Ging, said on his website that his life is in constant danger and he needs more suitable protection than the handguns his bodyguards had been carrying.

Ha’aretz reports that the weapons are necessary because “[UNRWA] personnel are being threatened by Hamas representatives.” That’s wrong—the threat actually comes from small non-Hamas jihadist groups in Gaza (Jund Ansar Allah, Jaljalat, and so forth), or possibly Hamas break-aways. Obviously a few HK submachines provide zero protection against any threat from the Hamas government in Gaza, and in any case the organization represents no physical threat to UN operations there, despite occasional political tensions.

The Guardian, by contrast, gets it right:

There have been two attempts to assassinate Ging, an energetic and charismatic advocate for the rights of Palestinian refugees. In March 2007, masked gunman fired at least 14 bullets at Ging’s armoured car as it travelled through Gaza. A second attack a few months later left one Palestinian dead and several wounded.

Earlier this year, arsonists attacked a site at which UNRWA was hosting summer games for Gazan children, leaving behind three bullets as a warning to Ging.

The attacks are thought to be the work of extremist Islamist groups in Gaza who object to UNRWA’s influence through its educational and social projects. Tensions between these groups and Hamas, the Islamist organisation which runs Gaza, are high.

This has been a long time coming. Ha’aretz suggests the delay was partly on the Israeli end, and partly on the UNRWA or German end:

After previous assurances by the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories that authorization was forthcoming, in July, Interior Minister Eli Yishai said he would not approve the request.

Ya’akov Imut, in charge of weapons registration at the Interior Ministry, said the ministry turned down the request because it is authorized only to license handguns. Only last week, after pressure from the UN, was the request approved.

The COGAT office said “the delay was because UNRWA received authorization from the Germans only five months ago.”

I was reliably informed by diplomatic sources months ago, however, that the delays were entirely on the Israeli side. I’ve also held off reporting any of this until the issues were resolved and/or the information was otherwise in the public domain.

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