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Following Protest, UN Suspends Assistance in Gaza Strip

Jon Queally, staff writer

Palestinians take part in a protest against the reduction aid from the UN, in Rafah in the Gaza Strip on April 1, 2013. (AFP/Said Khatib)

The UN's relief agency in Gaza has suspended its cash assistance program in the Gaza strip after protesters on Thursday stormed their offices.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) provides both cash, food, and other forms of direct assistance to nearly 800,000 Palestinian refugees living inside Gaza. That figure accounts for approximately two-thirds of the population. Though the head of UNRWA said food assistance would continue, the suspension of cash aid will affect approximately 25,000 people per day.

Protests against the agency grew throughout the week following UNRWA's announcement that budget cuts would lead to a decreasel in aid. The culmination of anger resulted in some protesters storming the office headquarters in Gaza City. Reports indicate the UN security were able to remove those protesters and Hamas officials announced that it would improve security as well. Still, the UN announced the shuttering of operations.

"This is a very regrettable situation for us to be in," said Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza Robert Turner in a statement.

"These demonstrations affect our ability to provide much needed service to the Palestine refugees in Gaza and—because they also targeted the Gaza headquarters building—our operations in the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria,"  He added. "We cannot tolerate these ongoing threats to our staff: their safety is of crucial concern at the moment. Any other affected installations will also remain closed."

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri called the UN's decision "unjustified" and demanded a reversal on Friday.

"There is a right of peaceful protest for Palestinian refugees," Zuhri said. "We call on UNRWA to reevaluate its position and not to overreact to residents' protest."

As Al-Jazeera reports:

In a separate interview later, UNRWA's Sami Mshasha tried to clarify the agency's position:


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