'Mutiny' at UN Palestinian agency in Gaza after job cuts: official
Workers have seized partial control of the headquarters of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees in Hamas-run Gaza, its head said today, accusing their union of "mutiny" over job cuts.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) announced last month more than 250 staff in Gaza and the occupied West Bank would lose their jobs, after a USD 300 million cut in annual funding from the United States.
The redundancies have prompted daily protests by the agency's labor union in the enclave, which UNRWA's Gaza head said have led to security concerns.
"They have taken over the compound where my office and other offices are," said Matthias Schmale.
The agency's Gaza chief admitted UNRWA does not have full control over the site, in Gaza City, explaining he has not been able to access his own office for more than two weeks.
"I am the captain of the ship which has 13,000 sailors on it and they have basically thrown me off the bridge and consigned me to my captain's quarters," he told AFP, referring to the number of employees in Gaza.
UNRWA provides support for more than three million Palestinians across the Middle East, including the majority of Gaza's two million residents.
It operates more than 200 schools in the enclave, which may not open at the start of the academic year without new funding and an end to the labor dispute.
Schmale accused the labor union of multiple incidents of "threatening and intimidating other fellow Palestinian staff.
For me, that crosses a red line." "I am very concerned about the safety and security of my Palestinian colleagues," he added.
The union denied all allegations of intimidation and is due to continue demonstrating, with a general strike expected in the coming days unless a deal is reached.
Today the UNRWA compound was visited by Mahmoud Zahar, a senior Hamas member, who pledged his Islamist movement's full support for protesters.
Schmale said any visit by a figure from Hamas -- considered a terrorist organization by the US and European Union -- was forbidden as it breaches the UN's impartiality rules.
"I didn't know that Mahmoud Zahar showed up but clearly political players are involved in this and are using this UNRWA crisis to more broadly address issues around the right to return, etc." The right of return refers to the demand that Palestinian refugees who fled or were expelled from their homes during the 1948 war surrounding Israel's creation and their descendants are allowed back.
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