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UNRWA shuts down Gaza offices over protests

April 5, 2013 12:21 A.M. (Updated: April 7, 2013 11:13 A.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- The UN agency for Palestine refugees said Thursday it was closing offices in the Gaza Strip in response to a "dramatic and disturbing" escalation in demonstrations over the week.

Protesters have been demonstrating outside UNRWA's offices to protest a reduction in financial assistance to vulnerable Palestinian refugees, but on Thursday they managed to enter a central compound.

In response, the agency said, all relief and distribution centers will remain closed "until guarantees are given by all relevant groups that UNRWA operations can continue unhindered."

The agency's large-scale food distribution program will continue operating, it said.

"We fully understand the impact the decision to suspend cash assistance had on some of our beneficiaries," said UNRWA's Gaza director Robert Turner, in a statement. But he said the agency was expanding a job creation program that would mitigate the effects of reductions in cash to refugee families.

Turner said UNRWA officials “respect people's right to peaceful demonstration but what happened today was completely unacceptable: the situation could very easily have resulted in serious injuries to UNRWA staff and to the demonstrators. This escalation, apparently pre-planned, was unwarranted and unprecedented".

He added: "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."

The agency called on "all the groups behind today's event to immediately stop inciting crowds at these demonstrations and to conduct themselves in a responsible manner."

It also called on the authorities in Gaza to "play their role in providing security and ensuring demonstrations remain peaceful," and it encouraged donors to continue to fund UNRWA relief programs.

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