Palestinians gather to receive free food on Tuesday, even as Gaza residents face alarming levels of hunger during the month of Ramazan.—Reuters
Palestinians gather to receive free food on Tuesday, even as Gaza residents face alarming levels of hunger during the month of Ramazan.—Reuters

CAIRO: Armed and masked men from an array of clans and factions have started providing security to aid convoys in Gaza, Palestinian officials and sources in the Hamas group say.

Video footage obtained by Reuters showed a convoy of trucks entering Gaza City with foreign aid overnight, watched by several men armed with AK-47 assault rifles and others wielding sticks.

With Israeli forces sworn to eliminating Hamas since its deadly Oct 7 raid on Israel, it has become highly risky for anyone linked to the group to emerge into the open to provide security for aid deliveries to desperate civilians.

So numerous clans, civil society groups and factions — including Fatah — have stepped in to help provide security for the aid convoys, according to the Palestinian officials and Hamas sources.

With public order strained, safe distribution of supplies becomes increasingly hard to guarantee

They did not identify the clans and factions, but said Hamas’ ability to rally such groups behind it over security showed it retains influence, and that efforts by Israel to build its own administrative system to keep order in Gaza were being resisted.

“Israel’s plan to find some clans to collaborate with its pilot projects of finding an alternative to Hamas didn’t succeed but it also showed that Palestinian resistance factions are the only ones who can run the show, in one way or another,” said a Palestinian official who asked not to be named.

An Israeli military spokesperson declined comment, saying specific rules of engagement in an active war zone could not be publicly discussed.

Israel’s offensive in Gaza has killed over 30,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza health officials, and reduced much of the enclave to rubble.

Hamas, which has run Gaza since 2007, has built its popularity on social services, education programmes and charities it offers impoverished Gazans.

With public order strained and civil police having concerns about providing security for fear of being targeted by the Israeli military, the safe distribution of supplies has become increasingly hard to guarantee.

Juliette Touma, spokesperson for the UN refugee agency UNRWA, had no information about masked men securing convoys.

Jamie McGoldrick, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory, said the United Nations was not working with clans. “We’ve been trying to get the Blue Police (Palestinian civil police) back on track again. There have been a number of incidents where the blue police have been targeted by Israel, because they regard them as part of the Hamas infrastructure,” he said.

“And so we are trying to find the best way suitable to have delivery of assistance into the north and other parts of Gaza Strip. That is a combination of using community groups, etc. And where we can use the police in a discreet manner as well.”

Gaza has large traditional family clans, affiliated with political factions, including Hamas and Fatah, which dominates the Palestinian Authority in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Some clan leaders have said they cannot take the place of UN relief agencies helping Palestinian refugees, or be a substitute for local authorities.

Published in Dawn, March 20th, 2024

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