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5 Apr, 2013 13:18

UN suspends food and cash distribution, leaving Gaza destitute

UN suspends food and cash distribution, leaving Gaza destitute

The UN has suspended operation of all of its food distribution outlets in Gaza following protesters storming one of them. The centers will resume operation when the UN Relief and Works Agency gets safety confirmation for its property and staff.

On Thursday dozens of men stormed one of UNRWA’s distribution centers in protest against the UN suspending direct financial assistance to thousands of poor Palestinian families in Gaza starting from April 1. The cash aid was halted due to significant budget cuts of UNRWA, which already caused a US$67-million-plus deficit in the organization’s budget.

In return, UNRWA announced temporary closure of their field food distribution centers due to "a dramatic and disturbing escalation in a series of demonstrations that have taken place over the past week," UNRWA said in its statement.

The UNRWA’s chief in Gaza has been categorical.

"What happened today was completely unacceptable,” acknowledged in the statement Robert Turner, head of the agency's Gaza operations.

Now Palestinians in Gaza are not likely to get any help at all as the UNRWA has been supporting nearly a half, 800,000 Palestinians out of a total 1.7 million population in Gaza. The UNRWA also still runs several dozens of schools and medical clinics in Gaza.

It is also worth noting that the UNRWA has been feeding 25,000 people in Gaza on a daily basis.

Palestinians collect food supplies from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) headquarters in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)

"All relief and distribution centers will consequently remain closed until guarantees are given by all relevant groups that UNRWA operations can continue unhindered," Turner claimed.

With the distinct prospect of a humanitarian catastrophe on the horizon, the Palestinian Hamas group, which has been in charge in Gaza since 2007 and is supposed to keep order and security on the territory of the Strip, has voiced its concerns, calling the closure of food centers “unjustified”.

Answering the UNRWA’s accusations of an “apparently pre-planned, unwarranted and unprecedented” attack, a spokesman for Hamas in Gaza, Sami Abu Zuhri, pointed out that the Hamas militia had arrived at the scene of the assault on the UNRWA compound after a phone call and ended the riot immediately.

“We are asking the UNRWA to rethink their decision," Abu Zuhri said.

“We fully understand the impact the decision to suspend cash assistance had on some of our beneficiaries,” Turner declared.

Palestinians go through a pile of garbage in search of recyclable material in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on April 3, 2013. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)

Since Israel has established a blockade of its border with Gaza, the suspension of help could become a knockout blow to Gaza’s economy, only adding problems to the Palestinian population already living in ghetto-like conditions.

Gaza-based Freelance journalist Harry Fear told RT that the lack of provision from UNRWA would have serious ramifications for the entire Palestinian population.

"More than 60 per cent of the population of Gaza is vulnerable to food insecurity even after the UNRA food provision,” Mr. Fear told RT, adding that the lack of provision would suffocate the refugee population.

“The benchmark is so severe that any temporary or even prolonged aid restriction will definitely have a very severe effect on at least thousands of Palestinians,” concluded Mr. Fear.

Israel is currently conducting occasional airstrikes against Hamas activists in retaliation for launches of homemade rockets in the direction of Israel.

The border with Egypt also remains securely closed after the incident on August 5 last year, when a group of Islamist militants attacked an Egyptian checkpoint along the border with Israel on Sinai Peninsula, killing 16 soldiers. Later on the militants were eliminated by the IDF while trying to force their way deep into Israeli territory.

Cairo wants no more problems on the border with Israel, so they re-opened only one crossing, Rafah, on the Egypt-Gaza border that connects 1.7 million people with the outside word. The Egyptian army has also begun sealing some of the 1,200 illegal tunnels that currently permeate the Egyptian border with the Gaza Strip.