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PA officials stealing aid, own documents show

By KHALED ABU TOAMEH  The Jerusalem Post 2 January 2003

Palestinian Authority officials and institutions in the Gaza Strip are involved in stealing basic food supplies and medicine provided by United Nations Reliefs and Works Agency (UNRWA) and Arab countries, according to documents seized by the IDF during a recent raid on the Protective Security Service headquarters in Gaza City.

The documents show that PA officials have been selling the food and medicine on the black market since 1996. Food distributed by UNRWA to residents of refugee camps in the Gaza Strip have made their way to private merchants, who are selling them on the black market.

The documents also indicate that large supplies of medicine and other equipment donated by Arab countries as humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people were being sold at private pharmacies and other markets in the Gaza Strip.

At one stage, the office of PA Chairman Yasser Arafat sent a complaint to Rashid Abu Shabak, head of the service in the Gaza Strip, concerning the misuse of food donated by Israeli Arabs.

In the letter, Fawzi Nimer, head of the Israeli Arab desk in the PA, said a number of illegal associations operating in Gaza were exploiting the donations to make a profit.

He asked the service to establish a supervisory body that would follow up on the case and prevent the thefts.

The IDF has been aware of the phenomenon for a long time, security sources said Wednesday. They noted that most of the thefts were taking place at the Rafah border crossing and that PA Minister of Supplies Abu Ali Shahin is responsible. Shahin is one of the top leaders of Fatah in the Gaza Strip and one of Arafat's confidants.

The Rafah crossing is controlled by the Preventive Security Service, which is cooperating with Shahin in stealing humanitarian aid, the sources said, noting that Shahin is being referred to by many Palestinians as the "minister of theft."

PA officials first became aware of the thefts in 1996, when some Palestinians complained that food donated by Arab countries and UNRWA had found its way to markets in Tel Aviv.

The complaints reached Arafat and his financial adviser, Gen. Fuad Shubaki (who is in a Jericho prison for his role in the attempt to smuggle the Karine A weapons ship to Gaza), who found a creative solution for the problem.

Both Arafat and Shubaki instructed the Preventive Security Service to confiscate all the food products from private shops and markets and to transfer them to stores belonging to the Ministry of Supplies.

The food would later be distributed to all the security groups in the Gaza Strip "for the good of the public interest." Arafat personally approved the arrangement by adding his signature to a letter issued by Shubaki.

But according to a memo written by Shahin on June 10, the new arrangement has failed.

Steeling aid ...