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Teachers protest at UNRWA's Gaza City headquarters

Oct. 5, 2011 12:47 P.M. (Updated: Oct. 7, 2011 1:44 P.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- Thousands of teachers on Wednesday protested at UNRWA headquarters in Gaza City over the dismissal of a union official, a Ma'an correspondent reported.

The Local Staff Union called for the general strike on Wednesday, the second such action in a week, to protest at UNRWA's suspension of the head of the union, Suhail al-Hindi.

Hamas sources said the UN agency had accused Hindi of meeting with Hamas political officials.

Buses took some 7,000 teachers employed at UNRWA-run schools to UN headquarters in Gaza city where they held a sit-in, calling for an end to "UNRWA political punishment of employees."

"Death rather than humiliation" read a banner held by striking teachers. "Deception, lying and hypocrisy have become the core values of UNRWA," read another.

The strike affected all of UNRWA's 243 schools in Gaza.

Hindi told the teachers he would stand against "oppression and injustice" but added that Palestinians saw UNRWA as a symbol of the cause of refugees and that its role should be preserved "until the Israeli occupation is removed."

UNRWA was founded in 1949 to serve refugees in Gaza, the West Bank and Arab countries after hundreds of thousands were displaced from Palestine when Israel was created. The agency's most recent mandate extends to June 30, 2014.

Chris Gunness, UNRWA's chief spokesman in Jerusalem, said disputes should be resolved internally and not through actions that undermine agency operations and services to refugees in Gaza.

"UNRWA is extremely concerned about the impact of further strikes on the education of 220,000 children in our schools, children whose right to education is being denied," he said in a statement.

Earlier this week, Hamas accused UNRWA of trying to create a "parallel authority".

"The Palestinian people cannot accept the punishment of an employee of the head of the employees union just because of his participation in a regular community activity," said Taher al-Nunu, spokesman of the Hamas-led government in Gaza.

Hamas lawmakers often criticize UNRWA's education policies and some accuse it of trying to teach material that encourages normalization with Israel or educates pupils about the Holocaust.

Islamist radicals opposed to mixed-gender activities are believed to be behind arson attacks on UNRWA-run summer camps.

Reuters contributed to this report.
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