World Bulletin / News Desk
The 13,000 employees and workers of the UN Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA) staged on Sunday a one-day general strike in the Gaza Strip, halting work at the international organization's health, education and services' premises.
"They have refused to apply the cost of living raise for the past two years on our salaries," Mahmoud Hamdan of the UNRWA's Arab Staff Union told Anadolu Agency.
The striking employees demand UNRWA to apply annual increase to their salaries and stop a series of cuts that led to the dismissal of dozens of their colleagues and the cancelation of several vital programs.
Hamdan said that cuts in the agency's services "reached an unprecedented dangerous level."
He explained that the UNRWA terminated the contracts of 94 engineers and ended a program that funds small enterprises, from which hundreds of Palestinian families in Gaza benefit.
"These cuts, in the shade of Israeli siege on Gaza, complicate the life of people," Hamdan said.
He added that this comes at a time in which unemployment is high due to Israeli, and most recently Egyptian, restrictions on the movement of people and goods into and from Gaza.
"This is the beginning of our protests and there will be more. We may go on an open strike," Hamdan warned.
UNRWA provides food, education, sanitation and – in some cases - fiscal assistance to some 5 million Palestinian refugees in Gaza, the West Bank and Arab countries, such as Syria and Lebanon.
Palestinian factions supported the strike by UNRWA's employees.
Representatives of the factions were present at the sit-in protest outside the agency's Gaza City headquarters.
Khaled Al-Batsh, an Islamic Jihad leader, suggested that UNRWA had diverted its humanitarian role into a political.
He told AA that the agency has become "a tool in the hands of the international community" to put pressure on the refugees, who constitute a wide sector of the Palestinian people.
The pressure, Batsh said, aims at ensuring that the refugees would not oppose a deal US Secretary of State John Kerry is trying to broker between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
But Adnan Abu Hassna, spokesman for the UNRWA, defended the position of the UN agency.
He rejected calls for increasing the employees' salaries, noting that the wages' rate of his agency is 20 percent higher than the average salaries paid by the PA itself.
Abu Hassna explained that the engineers were fired because Israel banned the delivery of construction materials for projects they work on.
He added that the sacked engineers would be called back to work when Israel resumes delivering the materials.
Abu Hassna asserted that UNRWA deficit this year stands at $65 million.
He noted that the UN agency dedicates a great share of its money and efforts to help Palestinian refugees in Syria, especially in Yarmouk refugee camp, where at least 15 people have died of hunger due to a siege on the camp.Güncelleme Tarihi: 05 Ocak 2014, 17:20