Gaza refugees protest UNRWA's downsizing measures

By Nour Abu Aisha

GAZA CITY, Palestine (AA) – Hundreds of Palestinian refugees staged a rally on Tuesday against recent moves by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) to scale down its operations in the blockaded Gaza Strip.

“Don’t leave us face hunger” and “Conspiracy won’t pass”, were among banners waved by protesters during the rally, organized by the Supreme National Commission for the Return and Breaking the Siege, an NGO, outside the agency's headquarters in Gaza City.

"UNRWA is taking many steps against the refugees, such as the scale-down of operations, refusing to hire new employees and cutting a large number of services,” Hussein Mansour, a member of the Central Committee of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), told protesters.

"These policies are in conjunction with Israeli plans to dissolve the [UNRWA] as a witness on the Palestinian Nakba (Catastrophe),” he said.

Established in 1949, UNRWA provides critical aid to Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip, the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

Last week, a UNRWA spokesman announced that the agency would not renew the contracts for more than 100 of its employees in Gaza.

The agency has also terminated its mental health program, which had employed roughly 430 staff members, according to the employees’ union.

“UNRWA administration has rejected all proposals presented by the agency’s staff union and Palestinian factions to solve the problem of employees,” Mansour said.

He went on to warn the UN agency of escalating protests in the coming period “if it didn't retreat from its decision."

Earlier this year, the U.S. suspended over half of the annual funding — $65 million out of $125 million — earmarked for the refugee agency.

The fund reduction came shortly after Palestinian leaders rejected Washington’s role in the peace process in retaliation for last year’s U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

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