Palestinian policemen loyal to Hamas guard outside the UNRWA headquarters in Gaza City.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and Jordan on Sunday staged protests against the decision by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency to cut its services.
The protesters claim that UNRWA has cut its health and educational services to tens of thousands of Palestinians.
In the Gaza Strip, where nearly half of the residents rely on UNRWA services, scores of protesters gathered outside the agency’s offices, chanting slogans against the decision.
Many Palestinians suspect that UNRWA’s scaling-down of its services is part of a “conspiracy” to eliminate the refugee problem.
The protest was organized by representatives of various Palestinian groups in the Gaza Strip that urged UNRWA to reconsider its decision to scale back its services.
Talal Abu Zarifa, a senior member of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, warned UNRWA against the “anger” of the Palestinian refugees.
“UNRWA needs to be careful not to enrage our refugees,” Zarifa said at the Gaza protest. “Our people will erupt because they realize that this is a conspiracy against refugees, and not a financial matter.”
One of the protesters, Ali Hashem, sounded a similar warning against UNRWA.
“The cuts in services will lead to a revolution against UNRWA,” he cautioned. “This is not a financial crisis, but a conspiracy against Palestinian refugees.”
UNRWA spokesman Adnan Abu Hasna said his agency was suffering from a severe financial crisis, explaining that UNRWA needed about $101 million.
“Unless we obtain this sum, UNRWA will be forced to take harsh measures and decisions, including postponing the opening of the new academic year,” Hasna said.
A similar protest was held by UNRWA employees in Jordan, where the agency’s Advisory Commission held an emergency meeting to discuss the financial crisis.
The commission will review the growing risk that UNRWA may have to delay the start of the academic year in some 700 schools serving half a million students across the Middle East unless the necessary $101m.
can be fully funded, according to a statement released by UNRWA. It will also discuss a special report to be sent to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and all 193 members of the UN.
UNRWA officials say they currently have enough funds to maintain services essential to public health – which includes immunizations for children, primary health care, relief, sanitation and some emergency programs – through the end of 2015.
However, the money is not enough to guarantee the stable provision of educational services from September onward.
Hamas legislators in the Gaza Strip said in a statement on Sunday that UNRWA’s decision to cut services was tantamount to a declaration of war on the Palestinians. The legislators dismissed UNRWA’s talk about a financial crisis as false, and warned the agency against attempting to implement an old plan to resettle refugees.
The Popular Committees for Palestinian Refugees in the Gaza Strip warned UNRWA against taking part in a “conspiracy to liquidate the case of the refugees.” The group warned that Palestinians would revolt against UNRWA’s moves “and burn everything that comes in their way.”