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Popular committees in West Bank camps halt services in protest

Jan. 6, 2014 9:37 P.M. (Updated: Jan. 7, 2014 4:12 P.M.)
JERICHO (Ma'an) -- A spokesman for the popular committees in the West Bank refugee camps, Imad Abu Simbel, said that the committees closed their offices and halted services on Monday in protest against UNRWA policies and the government's failure to transfer funds to them for the last three years.

"The directors of the committees took this step in response to the negligent policies of UNRWA and because government has not transferred the earnings of the committees for three years," Abu Simbel told Ma'an.

"It seems that the government is uninterested in ending the suffering of refugees in West Bank camps, through pressuring the UN or even transferring the earning of popular committees," Abu Simbel added, "as if camps are not part of the nation."

Abu Simbel explained that Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah did not "fulfill his promise" to the directors of committees in their last meeting to transfer the earnings. This harms the services provided by the popular committees, he said, especially "in light of the UNRWA strike ongoing for 32 days."

Abu Simbel said that the government is also negligent in pressuring the UNRWA into ending the crisis and their open strike.

He added that popular committees employed temporary workers to clean up camps, burdening the committees with big financial responsibilities.

The closures come amid protests across the West Bank over the last two days supporting dozens of hunger strikers against UNRWA layoffs, while the local employees' union in Gaza has gone on strike.

The hunger strikes -- carried out by 27 residents of Jerusalem, Hebron, Bethlehem, and Nablus -- were in protest of UNRWA's layoff of 55 employees in late 2013.

UNRWA is the UN agency originally set up in 1949 to ensure relief and development for the Palestinian refugees expelled from what became the State of Israel in 1948.

Today, the agency provides health care, education, social services, and other forms of aid to nearly 5 million Palestinian refugees.
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