UN aid agency suspends Gaza distribution
Fears the move could exacerbate hardship caused by controls on the isolated enclave's borders
A Palestinian woman takes part in a symbolic military funeral for Maysara Abu Hamdeya in Gaza City yesterday. Photograph: Mohammed Salem/Reuters
Some 800,000 Palestinians, two-thirds of Gaza's population, depend on the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and the move could exacerbate hardship caused by Israeli and Egyptian controls on the isolated enclave's borders.
Citing budget shortfalls, UNRWA said it had suspended some of its cash handouts and that this provoked violent protests this week, culminating in yesterday's breach of its Gaza headquarters.
"What happened today was completely unacceptable: the situation could very easily have resulted in serious injuries to UNRWA staff and to the demonstrators. This escalation, apparently pre-planned, was unwarranted and unprecedented," said Robert Turner, head of the agency's Gaza operations.
"All relief and distribution centers will consequently remain closed until guarantees are given by all relevant groups that UNRWA operations can continue unhindered," he said in a statement.
Gaza security officials had no immediate comment.
Turner said that despite the trimming of cash disbursements, UNRWA's food distribution in Gaza "will continue unchanged".
Earlier, thousands of mourners attended the funerals of three Palestinians, including two teenagers killed by Israeli army gunfire in some of the worst violence in the occupied West Bank in years. The upsurge in unrest was triggered on Tuesday by the death of Maysara Abu Hamdeya, a 64-year-old prisoner serving a life term in an Israeli jail and suffering from cancer.
Palestinian officials accused Israel of delaying treatment for Abu Hamdeya and gave him full military honours at a funeral in Hebron, where masked gunmen fired into the air as his body arrived at a mosque in the divided West Bank city.
In disturbances that followed his death, four Palestinian youths threw firebombs at an Israeli checkpoint near Tulkarm in the northern West Bank on Wednesday, the army said. Soldiers returned fire and killed two teenagers from the nearby town of Anabta - Amer Nassar (17) and Naji Belbisi (18).
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said Israel's use of lethal force showed that it wanted to "provoke chaos" in the Palestinian Territories and avoid any moves toward a peace deal. The wave of violence erupted two weeks after US president Barack Obama paid his first official visit to the region, urging the Israelis and the Palestinians to resume long-stalled peace talks but offering no initiative to break the deadlock.
US secretary of state John Kerry is scheduled to travel to Jerusalem again next week to review the stalemate. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said Israeli forces had killed nine Palestinians, most of them in clashes in the West Bank, so far this year, compared with three in the same period in 2012.
The bodies of Nassar and Belbisi, their blood-stained faces clearly visible, were carried on stretchers through the packed streets of Anabta, held aloft by uniformed members of the Palestinian security forces.
"O martyrs rest, rest. We will continue the struggle," the crowds chanted as the lifeless teenagers passed by. After their funeral, dozens of Palestinian riot police prevented youths with rocks and petrol bombs from reaching the Israeli watchtower near where Nassar and Belbisi were killed.
Masked protesters blocked a main road into the nearby city of Nablus and threw stones at an Israeli checkpoint. After Abu Hamdeya's funeral in Hebron, scores of youths clashed with Israeli forces, causing several light injuries.