Tuesday, September 29, 2020

UNRWA closes its offices briefly in Gaza before resuming work

By Leona Vicario - April 20, 2013
Section: [Main News]
Tags: [Gaza] [protests] [UNRWA] [refugees]

On Thursday, April 4 2013, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) announced the shutdown of its operations in the Gaza Strip after protesters stormed the agency’s offices.

Demonstrations broke out after it was made public that the main UN agency for Palestinians would cut down its relief budget in the area, removing the monthly $40 in cash aid for 106,000 refugees in an attempt to cut down on the deficit of $68 million in its finances for the current year, as explained by the UNRWA Operations Director in Gaza Robert Turner .

As the agency stated, “UNRWA was forced to close its distribution and relief offices due to ongoing demonstrations that affected its operations, a regrettable decision that hindered the agency’s ability to provide much needed services and relief supplies to Palestine refugees in Gaza.”

The institution provides basic services such as education and health to more than 5 million Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, West Bank and the Gaza Strip. In Gaza, there are 1.1 million Palestine refugees out of the total population of 1.7 million, who are dependent on the international aid with 800,000 of them included in the UNRWA food programs. Stopping this service would lead to a deeper and catastrophic humanitarian crisis for the inhabitants of the biggest open-air jail in the world.

"People are demonstrating because they're frustrated and the situation in Gaza just seems to be getting worse," said Robert Turner, the director of UNRWA operations in Gaza. Moreover, Israel recently reduced the fishing zone for fishermen, who now just can have access to three nautical miles instead of the six that was reclaimed after November’s military assault on Gaza, thus contributing to the Israeli pressure on the Gaza Strip for the limited natural resources that the population can make use of,

“While UNRWA understands the frustration of the population, heightened by the tightened blockade on the Gaza Strip, and respects the right to peaceful demonstrations, UNRWA must ensure the safety and security of its staff,” UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness.

In Gaza, there are 1.1 million Palestine refugees out of the total population of 1.7 million, who are dependent on the international aid with 800,000 of them included in the UNRWA food programs

However, a few days after the statement the agency announced its willingness to re-open its facilities on Tuesday April 9 and restore the aid distribution but under certain security conditions which guarantee the continuity of its operations.

 “Based on the assurances UNRWA in Gaza received from different local parties, the agency will reopen its installations (…)UNRWA in Gaza reaffirms that while it is re-opening these facilities now, if its staff or facilities are threatened or operations hindered by demonstrations in the future, it will again be forced to close those installations,” Robert Turner said in a statement.

Meanwhile Turner attributed the protests to the intense social situation related to the escalation of protests in West Bank due to the death of Maysara Abuhamdia, a Palestinian political prisoner who died from cancer as he was under Israeli custody, and the Israeli airstrikes on Gaza in repeated violation of November’s ceasefire in response to a few rockets fired out of Gaza for the first time since the ceasefire. Turner stated that the UNRWA protests were “apparently pre-planned, was unwarranted and unprecedented.”

As Ma’an News Agency reported, UNRWA called on “all the groups behind the event to immediately stop inciting crowds at these demonstrations and to conduct themselves in a responsible manner” and asked the Gaza’s authorities “to play their role in providing security and ensuring demonstrations remain peaceful.”

In response to the UNRWA requirements, the Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri condemned the actions against the agency but denounced the measure as “unjustified.”

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