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UNRWA site vandalized by gunmen in Gaza

May 23, 2010 2:08 P.M. (Updated: May 24, 2010 2:51 P.M.)
Bethlehem - Ma'an - A group of 30 armed and masked men attacked and set fire to an UNRWA recreation facility on Gaza City's beach front on Sunday, the UN body said in a statement.

The location is one of 35 beach facilities under construction, which will form part of UNRWA’s annual Summer Games program for over 250,000 refugee children in Gaza, due to commence on 12 June, the statement read.

UNRWA’s Director of Operations in Gaza, John Ging, condemned the incident, calling it "vandalism linked to extremism and an attack on the happiness of children." He went on to reassure parents and the children of Gaza that “UNRWA will not be intimidated by such acts and will quickly rebuild the location in good time to host the Summer Games.”

UNRWA's summer games, conducted for the fourth year with the full support and involvement of the community is the largest recreation program for Gaza’s children providing a diversified set of activities including sports, swimming, arts and crafts, theater and drama. "It is of immense physical and psychological importance for children who would otherwise have no other similar recreation opportunity," the statement read.

The security guard at the construction site said the masked gunmen handcuffed him before they threw him out and began torching tents and destroying billboards and water tanks. Then they gave him a letter demanding that he passes to police detectives.

The letter, according to the guard, threatens to harm Ging and two other UNRWA employees. “They painted three bullets, indicating that all three people will be shot,” he said.

In a separate statement, an apparent far-right group calling itself Refugee Rights said the Summer Games 2010 cost 20 million US dollars and would teach Palestinian school girls to swim, dance, and other "impudent practices."

The group further alleged that international employees in Ging's office receive salaries up to 20,000 US dollars per month "which is equal salaries of 30 local Palestinian teachers at UNRWA schools.” They described that as waste of money which belongs to the Palestinian people.

“We appreciate UNRWA services as evidence that the international community has responsibility towards the Palestinian people who are still denied return to their homeland. However, we announce refusal of some policies and decisions taken recently by the administration of the UNRWA in the Gaza Strip. Of most importance was the intermingling of boys and girls at school under the pretext that girls have better capabilities,” the statement added.

The group further said it denounced UNRWA's scheme allowing Palestinian students to visit foreign countries "because this is normalization with Israel since those students meet with Israeli or Jewish students abroad."

The Hamas government condemned the attack on the UNRWA site, vowing to pursue the perpetrators.

De facto government spokesman Tahir An-Nunu told reporters that the government was disappointed with the statement issued by Refugee Rights threatening to harm UNRWA officials, applauding Gings efforts to end the siege on Gaza and UNRWA's decades of support for the Palestinian people.

However, the Gaza-based Interior Ministry described UNRWA's statement as an "exaggeration" of the damage caused in the incident, asking the UN body to "check well before releasing overstated comments."

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