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'UNRWA Watch' looks to improve refugee agency

Aug. 13, 2011 3:41 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 14, 2011 10:57 A.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- Palestinian academics and others have announced the establishment of a watchdog group to observe UNRWA’s performance in the Gaza Strip, the head of the body said Saturday.

At a news conference in Gaza City, Hossam Adwan said "UNRWA Watch" would prioritize observing the performance of the Palestine refugee agency with the hope of guaranteeing refugee rights.

The committees are specializing in education, healthcare, the environment, housing, projects, emergency operations, relief projects, and works, Adwan explained. They will staff six offices throughout the enclave.

One of the group's tasks will be to issue a biannual report locally and internationally. UNRWA Watch calls on Palestinian refugees in the diaspora to cooperate by sending updates about the agency's performance.

UNRWA has defended itself against a series of complaints and accusations in recent months, as staff joined strikes and the heads of the West Bank and Gaza Strip divisions resigned early this year.

On Friday, the Jenin branch came under criticism by the local popular committee, a day after the agency suspended services indefinitely in response to unspecified "threats" against staff.

UNRWA said it could not offer services to refugees amidst an atmosphere of "violence and threats," adding that UNRWA employees and its facilities became unsafe in light of these threats. It did not elaborate.

The controversy in Jenin follows recent protests in Gaza City over issues like the agency's failure to rebuild homes of refugees destroyed during Israel's Operation Cast Lead.
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