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UNRWA: More talks after union ends strike
Published Monday 27/01/2014 (updated) 28/01/2014 10:43
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BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- UNRWA commissioner general Filippo Grandi said Sunday he was willing to hold constructive negotiations with the UNRWA employees union once their strike ends.

Grandi said in a letter to Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, obtained by Ma’an, that “we were sent a statement by the minister of labor detailing proposals to end the conflict between the administration and the union of UNRWA.”

“I would like to thank your esteemed government for the positive initiative and I assure you that once the union strike ends, and the services of the agency fully resume in the West Bank, and East Jerusalem, the agency’s administration will be ready to start negotiations in a constructive way,” he added.

Grandi announced that a group would be formed to discuss all issues once the strike ends.

He welcomed the participation of the government in such a group, including a representative from the prime minister’s office.

Grandi thanked the government for its efforts to end the dispute as quickly as possible.

The letter came as Palestinian refugees rallied in the central and southern Gaza Strip protesting reductions in services by UNRWA in Palestinian refugee camps across the coastal enclave.

Witnesses told Ma'an that protestors closed the offices of the UN's Palestine refugee agency in Nuseirat refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip during the protest.

Demonstrators waved black flags and signs denouncing service reductions and calling upon director of UNRWA operations Robert Turner to leave the Gaza Strip.

An official from the popular committee of al-Bureij refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip Suleiman Saymah said during the protest that the agency continued to reduce services to Palestinian refugees despite the dire economic conditions and high rates of unemployment in the blockaded Gaza Strip.

Saymah highlighted that UNRWA had promised to "reconsider 54,000 cases that receive social welfare assistance."

About 26,000 cases are expected to receive assistance through the same programs they used to benefit from, while the rest will be moved to other programs.

Hundreds of refugees also rallied in Rafah camp in the southern Gaza Strip urging the UNRWA to resume providing services which have been reduced.

The protests in the Gaza Strip come amid weeks of controversy for the agency, as protests across the Palestinian territories have targeted UNRWA after layoffs and service reductions.

Palestinian UNRWA employees have been on strike for nearly two months in protest of low salaries and UNRWA policies regarding employees who have been previously detained by the Israeli military.

On Thursday, UNRWA's administration and unions met in an effort to end the strike, which has kept schools closed and severely limited provisions of basic services to Palestinian refugee camps.

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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