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Activists block Ramallah roads in renewed UNRWA dispute protest

Jan. 12, 2014 11:10 A.M. (Updated: Jan. 14, 2014 11:03 A.M.)
RAMALLAH (Ma'an) -- Dozens of young Palestinians blocked major roads in Ramallah on Sunday morning in protest against the lack of public services resulting from the ongoing strike by employees of the UN's Palestine refugee agency.

A Ma'an reporter said main roads near al-Jalazun and al-Amari refugee camps as well as the village of Surda in the Ramallah area were blocked with rocks and flaming tires in the latest protest to hit the West Bank amid a month-long dispute between UNRWA and local employees.

According to the Ma'an reporter, when Palestinian security forces tried to disperse the protest in Surda, a number of security officers and protestors were hurt.

Spokesperson for the Palestinian security services Adnan Dmeiri told Ma'an via telephone that 40 officers were hurt as Palestinian security forces tried to reopen the roads.

Dmeiri confirmed that the director of Ramallah police Omar al-Bzouz was hit in the eye during clashes and denied that "any protestor was hurt."

He added: "What happened was unfortunate, and we are with the protests and the demands and consider them lawful. I personally am the child of a (refugee) camp, and I sympathize with all the demands."

"We are not against protests unless they disturb the general order, or lead to attacks on the freedom of citizens and public or private property," al-Dumieri said.

Al-Dumieri added that assaulting police and security forces is unacceptable, and said that dozens were injured after stones were thrown on them.

The road was eventually reopened.

The closure near al-Jalazun camp created a traffic jam as it targeted the main road leading from Ramallah to the northern West Bank.

The protests come amid weeks of demonstrations, strikes, and hunger strikes as local employees across the West Bank and the Gaza Strip demonstrate against UNRWA layoffs of local employees and other policies.

The hunger strikes -- carried out by dozens of former employees from Jerusalem, Hebron, Bethlehem, and Nablus -- are in protest of UNRWA's layoff of 55 employees in late 2013.

Solidarity strikes have been ongoing since they were laid off, leading to major service closures in the West Bank's 19 refugee camps. UNRWA schools have been closed for over a month due to the dispute.

Gunness told Ma'an at the time that the employees who were on hunger strike were temporary employees whose contracts were not renewed. The funding that provided those employees with salaries had been cut from $40 million to $25 million, he said.

UNRWA advertised 27 job openings after the layoffs took place, but "those on hunger strike did not apply," Gunness said.

The employees were aware that their positions were "never permanent. ... It seems a bit strange to go on hunger strike for that reason."

The protesters, however, allege that their contracts were terminated despite years of service.

They have also protested against the discrepancy between local and international pay levels as well as policies that prevent the employment of those formerly imprisoned by Israeli occupation forces.

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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