Staff at the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees went on strike in the Gaza Strip Monday to protest against job losses and U.S. funding cuts. The one-day strike shut down more than 250 UNRWA schools in Gaza, as well as medical centers and food aid distribution points, the agency’s labor union said.
The United States has traditionally been UNRWA’s largest funder, providing around $350 million a year.
But President Donald Trump has cut all support, thereby sparking a funding crisis.
More than 250 jobs have been cut in Gaza and the West Bank so far, while hundreds of full-time roles have become part-time.
The refugee agency’s labor union is demanding the job cuts be reversed and its leaders say the strike could be the first of a number of measures.
A small protest took place outside the agency’s Gaza headquarters.
“The strike comes in light of the [UNRWA] administration’s lack of responsiveness to the demands of the employees’ union and their insistence on not solving their problems,” Amal al-Batsh, deputy head of the union, said in a statement.
UNRWA’s spokesman Chris Gunness said that the agency regretted the strike.
“We regret any action that negatively impacts the services we provide to refugees, particularly in a place like Gaza where after a more than decade of blockade they have suffered enough,” he told AFP.
UNRWA says the funding deficit caused by the Trump administration’s withdrawal of support is so severe that cuts are unavoidable.
Around 13,000 people work for the agency in Gaza, where more than two-thirds of the roughly two million residents are eligible for aid.
UNRWA says that more than 200,000 Palestinians attend its schools in the strip.
This followed news that Israeli forces shot dead a Palestinian in fresh protests on the Gaza border Sunday, the strip’s Health Ministry said.
Imad Ishtawi, 21, was shot in the head, the ministry said, as Palestinians again gathered along the border east of Gaza City late Sunday in the latest in months of frequently violent demonstrations.
Hamas had been rumoured to be seeking a lasting truce with Israel but the indirect talks have seemingly stalled, with protests subsequently increasing in number.
An Israeli army spokesman said that “hundreds of rioters and demonstrators” had gathered along the border.
“The rioters were burning tires and hurling burning tires and firecrackers,” the spokesman said, adding that the soldiers “responded with riot dispersal means” and operated “in accordance with standard operating procedures.”
In recent weeks the demonstrations, which typically involve burning tires and throwing stones, have also taken place at night, though with far smaller numbers than the regular Friday daytime gatherings.
At least 185 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since the protests began on March 30. One Israeli soldier was killed by a Palestinian sniper.
Israel has maintained a crippling blockade of Gaza for more than a decade it says is necessary to isolate Hamas.