March 21, 2024 Special Dispatch No. 11222

Hamas Efforts, Assisted By UNRWA, To Seize Control Of Humanitarian Aid Entering Gaza Strip

March 21, 2024
Palestinians | Special Dispatch No. 11222

Hamas has recently been attempting to seize control of the delivery and distribution of  humanitarian aid entering the Gaza Strip, out of recognition that such control is critical to maintaining its rule and its grip on the populace.[1] These efforts were spurred by reports that Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) are in contact with armed clans in Gaza with the aim of establishing a local Palestinian force to replace the Hamas administration, which will distribute the humanitarian aid to the civilian population.[2]

Several reports reveal that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is helping Hamas in its efforts to seize control of the humanitarian aid, and coordinates the arrangements to deliver, secure and distribute the aid directly with the Hamas apparatuses. For instance, it was reported that a convoy of 12 aid trucks entered the northern Gaza Strip on March 17, 2024, guarded by armed operatives subordinate to Hamas, following a preparatory coordination meeting between representatives of the Hamas police and of UNRWA that took place at Gaza's Al-Shifa Hospital on March 16. In remarks to Reuters, a senior UN official openly admitted  that his organization is coordinating with the Hamas police. The official, Jamie McGoldrick, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory, said that the UN coordinates with the "Blue Police" (i.e., Hamas police), albeit "in a discreet manner," because Israel views this force as part of the Hamas infrastructure.[3] Several Arab media outlets, among them the Rai Al-Youm online daily, likewise reported about the coordination between UNRWA and Hamas and the direct involvement of Hamas in securing the aid convoys and distributing the aid.[4] Furthermore, in a video posted on the Telegram channel of Hamas' Civil Defense Force, a member of this force stated that his men secured the March 17 convoy.[5]

At the same time, Hamas is evidently attempting to conceal its direct involvement in, and control of, the delivery of the aid, presumably in order to deceive Israeli and international elements that are likely to oppose this. It is doing so by acting through proxies, such as "the Popular Defense Committees", whose members explicitly note that they are subordinate to the Hamas interior ministry, and "Palestinian clans" which openly assert that they will cooperate with Hamas.[6]

To view excerpts from the video posted by the Hamas Civil Defense Force, click below.

Masked gunman guards an aid truck bound for the northern Gaza Strip (Image: Telegram channel of Hamas' Civil Defense Force:, March 18, 2024)

Armed operatives escort a humanitarian aid convoy to the northern Gaza Strip (Image:, March 16, 2024)

This document presents the reports on coordination between Hamas and UNRWA regarding the delivery of aid to the Gaza Strip, and Hamas' efforts to conceal its direct involvement in the distribution of the aid by operating through proxies.

UNRWA, Hamas Representatives Hold Coordination Meeting At Shifa Hospital

As stated, Hamas is making efforts to take control of the aid entering the Gaza Strip and to oversee its distribution, out of recognition that this is vital to maintaining its control of the Strip. To this end, its representatives recently held coordination meetings with representatives of UNRWA, at which it was agreed that the aid would be handed over to local elements, such as tribal forces – presumably in order to obscure Hamas' involvement – but that Hamas gunmen would oversee the operations. 

On March 18, the Palestinian news site Ultrapal reported that a 12-truck aid convoy that entered Gaza on the night between March 16 and March 17 had arrived following a coordination meeting held on March 16 at Al-Shifa hospital between tribal representatives and UNRWA representatives, which was also "attended by representatives of [Hamas'] Palestinian security forces in Gaza." According to the report, the Hamas representatives agreed that the aid trucks would "be received by the tribal [elements], who would be guarded by 'emergency committees' comprising armed members of the various factions, chiefly Hamas, that have formulated a plan on the ground to prevent the theft of the aid and ensure that it reaches as many of the people as possible."[7] It was also reported that, in order to ensure the orderly distribution of the aid, the "Palestinian security forces" had issued guidelines to the public, and that the "emergency committees" had been instructed to take firm measures against anyone trying to steal the aid or disrupt its distribution.[8] These committees are subordinate to Hamas' interior ministry,[9] and the context makes it clear that the "Palestinian security forces" likewise belong to Hamas.

The "Popular Defense Committees" That Escort Humanitarian Aid Trucks: Strawman Groups Belonging To Hamas's Interior Ministry

As mentioned above, Hamas is attempting to conceal its direct involvement in aid distribution, apparently with the goal of deceiving Israeli and international elements that may oppose this involvement since it is a way of maintaining Hamas' control over the Gaza Strip. An additional goal may be to protect the Hamas operatives from Israeli strikes. The primary method used by Hamas to this end is the employment of organizations that ostensibly have no ties to it. Among these organizations are the "Popular Defense Committees" that were established by Hamas in February 2024, following the mass plundering of humanitarian aid trucks by civilians[10] and the criticism faced by Hamas following reports that its operatives are seizing the aid and selling it to civilians for profit.[11]

The Popular Defense Committees are comprised of masked thugs who are generally armed with clubs or with rifles, tasked with assisting Hamas's interior ministry in managing the humanitarian aid and in dealing with thieves or vendors who inflate the prices of goods. A typical Popular Defense Committee group consists of several operatives armed with clubs, led by an operative armed with a rifle.

Even though the members of these committees claim to be volunteers,[12] they openly state that they are subordinate to Hamas' interior ministry. For example, in one video that was circulated on social media an armed Popular Defense Committee operative says that the committees were established "to assist [Hamas's] interior ministry."[13] It is clear that these groups are an attempt by Hamas to conceal its direct involvement in "securing" the humanitarian aid convoys. It should also be noted that it is difficult to distinguish between Popular Defense Committee operatives and the armed and masked thugs who were seen violently seizing humanitarian aid before the establishment of the committees.

Another reason for Hamas' use of unknown groups such as the Popular Defense Committees is presumably to protect its police officers from being targeted by Israel. According to the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, the Palestinian factions in Rafah agreed to establish "Popular Committees" that would distribute humanitarian aid at UNRWA facilities without the open involvement of Hamas police officers, out of concern that the officers would be attacked by Israel.[14]

Operatives armed with clubs escort a humanitarian aid convoy to the northern Gaza Strip (Image:, March 16, 2024)

Hamas Has Also Recruited Local Clans To Assist In Distributing Humanitarian Aid

In order to conceal its efforts to seize control of the humanitarian aid entering the Gaza Strip, Hamas has also been employing local clans. Moreover, in light of reports that local armed tribes have been in contact with Israel and the PA in order to establish a local Palestinian force that will distribute humanitarian aid to civilians instead of Hamas, these tribes are apparently between a rock and a hard place and must take pains to defend themselves against Hamas accusations that they are collaborating with Israel and the PA. It appears that some of these clans continue to cooperate with Hamas, as evidenced by a statement published by the Supreme Council of Tribes in the Gaza Strip asserting that the tribes are unwilling to work with Israel by accepting responsibility for the distribution of humanitarian aid and that this must be done exclusively by the Hamas government.[15]

Further reports about the humanitarian aid that arrived in Gaza on the night between March 16 and March 17 suggest that Hamas coordinated the transfer of the aid not just with the Popular Defense Committees described above, but also with tribal elements. For example, the Al-Arabi Al-Jadid daily reported that the convoy arrived at UNRWA warehouses escorted by "tribesmen and security personnel."[16] The Al-Jazeera Network likewise reported that the convoy's arrival had been coordinated in advance by "senior tribesmen" and UN officials, and was escorted by "Palestinian security forces in Gaza."[17]

The "Home Front" Telegram channel, operated by Hamas' interior ministry,[18] shared on March 17 a post praising the "efforts of the Popular Committees" and the cooperation of the "families" (i.e., clans) which had enabled the arrival of the convoy, as broadcasted live on Al-Jazeera.[19]


[1] It should be noted that reports continue to be published about protests in the Gaza Strip against the Hamas authorities. See MEMRI TV Clip No. 10961, Anti-Hamas Protests In The Gaza Strip: The People Want To Topple Hamas; Sinwar – You Are A Collaborator, Traitor; Haniyeh – We Want To Return Home; Osama Hamdan – Come Back From Lebanon, February 1, 2024.

[3], March 20, 2024.

[4] According to the Rai Al-Youm report, the March 17 aid convoy was guarded by the "Hamas police.", March 17, 2024.

[5], March 18, 2024.

[6] These attempts at deception have apparently been successful. Some reports in the Arab media claim that the delivery of humanitarian aid is carried out in coordination with local elements, such as "the Popular Committees" or "Palestinian clans" in the Gaza Strip, with no mention of any involvement by the Hamas government or its apparatuses. For example, a report on the Saudi news website Independent Arabia quoted the spokesman for the Hamas Civil Defense Force, Mahmoud Bassal, as saying that "those who coordinated [with the UN] to enable the arrival of this aid are groups of clans and civilians, overseen by the Popular Committees and by [representatives of] the neighborhoods and the mukhtars, with no presence or involvement of the security apparatuses of the [Hamas] government in Gaza.", March 18, 2024.

[7] The report states that the ones who were responsible for disrupting the delivery of aid to the northern Strip in the past months were "gangs" and clans that oppose Hamas. This appears to be a case of apologetics, aimed at exonerating Hamas of responsibility for incidents in which the aid was seized, including by its own apparatuses.

[8], March 18, 2024.

[9], May 12, 2023.

[10] These incidents of plundering were so extreme that the UN World Food Program halted its distribution of humanitarian aid in the northern Gaza Strip. See:, February 20, 2024.

[11] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 11024 - Growing Criticism Of Hamas And Its Officials By Gaza Residents: They Brought A Needless War Upon Us; Our Lives Are Worthless In Their Eyes; We Yearn To See The End Of Hamas – December 18, 2023.

[12] As stated, for instance, by one of these operatives to France24. See, March 6, 2024. The use of anonymous individuals in civilian clothing is a known tactic of Hamas and other Gaza-based terror groups. For example, it is obvious that the various "units" that participated in the Right of Return Marches in 2018-2021 were operating on the orders of Hamas's leadership and that their key operatives were members of Hamas's military wing who simply "took off their uniforms," as described by Hamas' leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar. See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 7476 - The 'Great Return March' Campaign: An Initiative Sponsored By Hamas, Whose Goal Was To Breach The Border Fence, Penetrate Israeli Territory - May 18, 2018.

[13], February 28, 2024.

[14], March 18, 2024.

[15], March 16, 2024.

[16], March 18, 2024., March 16, 2024.

[17], March 17, 2024.

[18] For examples of announcements to the people of Gaza by the "Home Front" headquarters, see MEMRI reports: Special Dispatch No. 10861 - Hamas Calls On Residents Of Northern Gaza Strip Not To Evacuate, Says Israel's Warning Is 'Psychological Warfare' – October 13, 2023; Special Dispatch No. 10847 - Hamas And Palestinian Islamic Jihad To Gaza Strip Residents: Do Not Evacuate From Areas About To Be Targeted In Airstrikes -  October 10, 2023; Special Dispatch No. 10690 - Hamas Encourages Young Children To Visit Weapon Exhibitions In Gaza – July 3, 2023.

[19], March 16, 2024;, March 17, 2024.

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