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UNRWA job termination initiates massive protests in Gaza

July 31, 2018 3:17 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 2, 2018 3:45 P.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- Thousands of Palestinian employees protested on Tuesday blocking UNRWA main offices in the besieged Gaza Strip and prevented its staff from reaching them.

The mass protest followed the recent decision by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) to end work contracts of about 145 out of 1000 employees hired in Gaza on the emergency appeal program.

Local sources told Ma'an that the protesters were carrying slogans demanding to end the on-going siege of Gaza.

According to Palestinian Authority (PA)-owned Wafa News Agency, the UNRWA Director of Operations in Gaza, Matthias Schmale, said that "We have over 13,000 staff and only 1000 of this staff are linked to the emergency appeal and only 10 percent, just over 100 are losing their jobs. Yet we see this kind of massive protest blocking the compound and so on."

Schmale added that "the immediate explanation is people are very, very worried that this is the beginning of something larger. That the next financially driven tough decision we might be forced into is the delay of the opening of our 275 schools in Gaza at the end of August 2018."

He admitted that the current situation in Gaza is "devastating."

Amal al-Batsh, the deputy head of Union of UNRWA Arab Employees, said that the protests condemning UNRWA's policy will continue until UNRWA withdraws the decision to dismiss Palestinian employees and finds a solution along with the Palestinian Authority (PA) to this crisis.

UNRWA has been facing a financial crisis since the United States President Donald Trump announced the end of contributions to the agency, considering the US was their largest donor with $300 million per year.

UNRWA provides cash assistance to more than 400,000 Palestinian refugees in Syria -- one of the largest such programs in an active conflict setting anywhere in the world. UNRWA also provides education to over 47,000 Palestinian refugees in the war-torn country.

In the Gaza Strip, where unemployment is among the highest in the world due to a decade-long Israeli siege on the coastal enclave, almost one million Palestinian refugees are dependent on UNRWA for emergency food assistance -- ten times the amount of refugees that required such support in 2000.

UNRWA's very existence since establishment has been tied to the provision of services to the Palestinian refugees until a fair solution to their cause has been reached in accordance with General Assembly Resolution 194, which states the right of the Palestinian people to return to the towns and villages from which they were forced out as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war and the establishment of the State of Israel.

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