RED CROSS: ISRAEL RULES SLOWING AID
Friday March 23 2:35 PM ET



By JONATHAN FOWLER, Associated Press Writer -

GENEVA (AP) - Israeli authorities are hindering relief agencies by blocking direct trucking of aid from Jordan to the Palestinian territories, an international Red Cross official said Friday.

Walter Stocker, head of an International Committee of the Red Cross delegation to Jerusalem, said Israel has in the past two weeks toughened control on the organization's trucks coming from Jordan.

``Previously these trucks - which are driven by international Red Cross staff - could go straight from our warehouses in Jordan to the needy areas with just a border check by Israeli authorities,'' he said. ``Now we have to unload all the goods at the border onto different trucks since we're not allowed to cross the frontier.''

Israel's ambassador to the U.N. offices in Geneva, Yaakov Levy, told The Associated Press the decision to stop direct trucking was made because of security fears.

``We had evidence that arms and explosives were being smuggled in humanitarian aid transports,'' he said. ``We're not suggesting the Red Cross is responsible, or the only organization affected - drivers may not know what's being hidden in their trucks, or may be offered bribes to carry something.''

Stocker said he was aware of Israeli security concerns, but that the new rules had doubled the number of vehicles needed, and so raised the cost of the Red Cross aid effort by up to 20 percent. If the situation persisted, the Red Cross would have to spend an extra $292,000 this year, he said.

Negotiations with Israel to ease restrictions on the Red Cross were ``ongoing,'' he said. Levy said he could not give further details about the discussions.

Stocker also criticized Israel's blockade of Palestinian-populated areas, which he said was causing long, unnecessary delays in getting wounded people to hospitals. Roadblocks can stretch a 30-minute ambulance journey to three hours, Stocker said.

Israel has said the internal blockade is also needed to reduce security risks during a wave of violence between the two sides since September which has left over 350 Palestinians and around 50 Israelis dead.