Middle East

UN reopens Gaza food centres after compound attack

Palestinians held a sit-in outside the offices of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in Gaza city on April 8 to demand resumption of food aid
Image caption Palestinians have been holding sit-ins outside the Unrwa offices in Gaza

The UN says it is reopening its food distribution centres in the Gaza Strip after they closed following violent protests over aid cutbacks.

The UN Relief and Works Agency (Unrwa) closed the centres on 4 April after a compound was stormed by protesters.

The protests came as the agency said a budget deficit was forcing it to cut cash payments to some of Gaza's poorest families.

Unrwa confirmed it was reopening all of its centres on 9 April.

But it warned that they could shut again if there was further unrest.

Unrwa spokesman Chris Gunness said the decision was based on assurances "received from different local parties'' that its property and staff would be safe.

He said: "Unrwa was forced to close its distribution and relief offices last week due to ongoing demonstrations that affected its operations, a regrettable decision that hindered the agency's ability to provide much needed services and relief supplies to Palestine refugees in Gaza.

"While Unrwa understands the frustration of the population, heightened by the tightened blockade on the Gaza Strip, and respects the right to peaceful demonstrations, Unrwa must ensure the safety and security of its staff."

Image caption There were days of protests outside Unrwa compounds in Gaza at the start of April

Unrwa provides aid for an estimated 800,000 Palestinians in Gaza.

It runs dozens of schools and medical clinics and distributes food to many of the territory's 1.7 million residents, but says it is grappling with a huge budget deficit of more than $67m (£44m).

Correspondents said the suspension of food aid risked causing more hardship for people in Gaza already hit by Israeli and Egyptian controls on its borders.

Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesman for Hamas which governs Gaza, had condemned any violence against Unrwa but described the closure the food centres as "unjustified".

Unrwa says financial support for its programmes to help Palestinian refugees has not kept up with the deepening poverty of those in need.

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