GAZA - The main UN humanitarian agency for Palestinians said on Monday it was reopening its Gaza food distribution centers after suspending operations last week in response to violent protests over aid cutbacks.

The centers, which the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) closed on Thursday after demonstrators stormed its headquarters, supply food to 800,000 Palestinians - nearly half the population of the impoverished Gaza Strip.

Announcing that food distribution centers and relief offices would reopen on Tuesday, Adnan Abu Hasna, UNRWA's Gaza media adviser, said the agency had received "assurances from the relevant parties over the safety of its staff".

The violence on Thursday was part of a dispute that had been brewing for weeks in the territory, which is governed by the Islamist Hamas movement.

Robert Turner, UNRWA's director of Gaza operations, said the agency faced a $68 million shortfall in 2013 and that it had decided to cut a $40 annual handout to 106,000 Gaza refugees to save some $5.5 million. To soften the blow, the agency offered job programs to help the poorest families.

Police were deployed outside UNRWA headquarters on Monday to prevent any recurrence of Thursday's events. Contacts between the agency and the Hamas government, and meetings between UNRWA officials and refugee committees helped to defuse tensions.

In a statement, UNRWA said it understood the "frustration of the population heightened by the tightened (Israeli) blockade" of the Gaza Strip, a reference to border and fishing zone restrictions Israel strengthened after Palestinian rocket attacks.

But, the statement said, UNRWA must ensure the safety and security of its staff, and would close its installations again if its personnel or facilities were threatened.
 

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