The United Nations decided Wednesday to immediately scale back its operations in the Gaza Strip after two Palestinians who worked for a UN agency were killed in the rampant fighting there, a UN spokesman said. "In view of the increased threats to our staff, UNRWA has no choice but to scale back its operations in Gaza with immediate effect," UN spokesman Christopher Gunness said, referring to the UN agency that deals with Palestinian refugees.
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The agency said it would continue to provide essential medical services and emergency food distributions, he said.
An UNRWA garbage collector was killed Wednesday afternoon in crossfire from a battle and another worker was shot in northern Gaza on Tuesday and died later in the hospital, Gunness said.
In light of the increase in factional violence, the European Union said it would consider participating in an international force in Gaza if asked by the major players in the region, the EU's foreign policy chief Javier Solana said Wednesday.
"If we are asked, of course, we will consider the possibility," Solana told reporters.
He spoke in response to a suggestion made by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that international forces could be stationed along the Gaza Strip's volatile border with Egypt, otherwise known as the Philadelphi corridor, to prevent arms from reaching armed Palestinians.
The EU, which has police officers already helping to monitor the Gaza-Egypt border, has long said it would examine a possible peacekeeping role in the region if there is an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.
Solana stressed that as yet there had been no decision among players in the region to seek EU help.
"We are far from a decision," he said. "We'll see how things go, and what is the decision to be taken by the important players, that have to take a decision, which are ... the Israelis, the Palestinians and the Egyptians."
Solana said he'd been in touch overnight with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and other Palestinian leaders in an effort to calm the situation in the Gaza Strip between Abbas's Fatah forces and the rival Hamas faction.