UN agency demands safety before resuming Gaza relief services

The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) on Saturday demanded security for its employees in the Gaza Strip before reopening food distribution centers.

The agency, which assists Palestinian refugees who make up almost half of Gaza's 1.6 million population, closed its nutrition centers in the refugee camps on Thursday after protesters against aid reductions broke into the UNRWA's main compound in Gaza City.

"The 22 catering centers will remain closed," Adnan Abu Hassna, UNRWA spokesperson said, adding that "We are holding talks with all parties but the reopening will not happen before a safe environment is provided for our staffers."

On Thursday, some 100 demonstrators, who were angry with the UNRWA's cut of cash aid for 21,000 families classified as the poorest in Gaza, rallied outside the UNRWA headquarters, and some of them stormed the compound.

"We understand the right of people demonstrate peacefully, but the protests reached an unacceptable level and broke all lines by inciting against specific names of our employees," Abu Hassna told Xinhua.

The UNRWA attributed the reduction to a 67-million-U.S. dollar shortfall in its annual budget, and replaced the cash aid with a temporary unemployment program which the refugees said does not last for long.

Yousef Rizqa, an aide to head of Hamas in Gaza Ismail Haneya, urged the UNRWA to reconsider its decision and resume its services "as quick as possible," adding that the halting of the relief operations was "unjustifiable."

The UNRWA provides education, health and food to Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and neighboring Arab countries.