United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Friday pressed Hamas to release the humanitarian aid shipment it seized in the Gaza Strip and provide assurances that no further aid would be taken.
Ban's spokeswoman Michele Montas told reporters that Ban "demands that Hamas immediately release the (U.N.) consignment of humanitarian goods it seized last night, in the second such incident this week, and to refrain from interference with the provision and distribution of humanitarian assistance."
She added that Ban wanted guarantees that it would not happen again.
The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) said earlier it has stopped importing aid into the Gaza Strip after the Hamas government seized hundreds of tons of food assistance.
The decision came after 10 truckloads of rice and flour, more than 200 tons, brought in by the agency were seized on Thursday on the Palestinian side of the Kerem Shalom crossing with Israel, UNRWA said.
Hamas reacted quickly by saying that the aid supplies were seized "by mistake" and will be returned.
The Hamas government's social affairs minister ordered "the aid to be returned to the agency if it turns out it is indeed its property," Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum said.
"The aid supplies were loaded onto trucks by mistake as no government representative was present," at the crossing where the supplies were brought in from Israel, he added.
The aid was taken away by trucks contracted by the Islamist government's social affairs ministry, a statement by the UNRWA said.
"UNRWA has suspended all imports of aid into the Gaza Strip following the confiscation of hundreds of tons of food aid," it said.
"UNRWA's suspension of imports will remain in effect until the aid is returned and the agency is given credible assurances from the Hamas government in Gaza that there will be no repeat of these thefts."
Second time in three days
The agency said the incident was the second of its kind in three days. On Tuesday, 3,500 blankets and more than 400 food parcels were seized at gunpoint from a distribution store in Beach Camp, Gaza.
Following that, U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes slammed as unacceptable the confiscation of aid supplies by Hamas personnel and demanded immediate restitution.
He warned that such actions could jeopardize delivery of aid at a time when the world body and its partners were doing their best to meet the basic humanitarian needs of Gaza's 1.5 million people still reeling from a recent Israeli military onslaught.
The Hamas social affairs minister, Ahmed al-Kurd, has implicitly admitted that Tuesday's shipment was seized, arguing the aid should be distributed to a wider section of the Gaza population than just those who hold refugee status and benefit from UNRWA assistance.
UNRWA extended the number of people it helps in Gaza following a three-week Israeli offensive last month that left 1,300 Palestinians dead, 5,000 wounded and thousands homeless.
Virtually all aid delivered to Gaza comes from U.N. and other humanitarian agencies. The deliveries are an exception to the crippling blockade of Gaza as Israel often prevents aid convoys from entering the besieged territory.
UNRWA plays a key role in distributing aid in the impoverished enclave and says it is handing out food assistance 900,000 people, out of a 1.5-million population.