Gaza City:  The United Nations said it has suspended food distribution to about 25,000 Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip, after demonstrators angry at aid cuts stormed a UN depot.
    
Dozens of Gazans forced their way into the field office of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) on Thursday, demanding reinstatement of a monthly cash allowance to poor families which was halted from April 1 due to UNRWA budget cuts. The protesters were removed by UN security when they tried to break into a building, staff said. "We fully understand the impact the decision to suspend cash assistance had on some of our beneficiaries," the agency said in a statement.
    
"Demonstrations during the past week had already forced UNRWA to close many of its facilities," it added. "With the situation further compounded by Friday’s actions, all relief and distribution centres will consequently remain closed until guarantees are given by all relevant groups that UNRWA operations can continue unhindered."This is a very regrettable situation for us to be in, as food distributions right now are taking place for some 25,000 refugees every day. But we cannot tolerate these ongoing threats to our staff," UNRWA said.
    
Abu Hussam, a 50-year-old jobless man at Thursday’s demonstration, was unrepentant. "We shall continue our protests," he said.

Hamas urges UN to reconsider its suspension

Meanwhile, Gaza's Hamas rulers urged the United Nations to reconsider its suspension of food aid for Palestinian refugees.
    
"This is an unjustified step from UNRWA," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said. "There is a right of peaceful protest for Palestinian refugees," he said, adding: "We call on UNRWA to reevaluate its position and not to overreact to residents' protest." The protesters were removed by UN security when they tried to break into a building, staff said.
    
"We fully understand the impact of the decision to suspend cash assistance had on some of our beneficiaries," UNRWA said in a statement. "Demonstrations during the past week had already forced UNRWA to close many of its facilities," said the UN Palestinian refugee agency.
    
"With the situation further compounded by today's actions, all relief and distribution centres will consequently remain closed until guarantees are given by all relevant groups that UNRWA operations can continue unhindered.
    
"This is a very regrettable situation for us to be in, as food distributions right now are taking place for some 25,000 refugees every day. But we cannot tolerate these ongoing threats to our staff," it said.

Abu Zuhri said that UNRWA staff were in no danger, as Hamas security forces had been posted to ensure their safety and the smooth running of their operations. "We in Hamas and the government are preventing entry (of protesters) to UNRWA headquarters in Gaza," he said. "We are providing appropriate conditions for UNRWA's work."

JPN/Agencies

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