Hamas Says UNRWA ‘Overreacting’ to Riot

GAZA (Reuters) -

Hamas has urged a United Nations agency to resume its operations in the Gaza Strip, accusing the world body of overreacting by shutting down after Palestinians rioted in its headquarters.

The main U.N. humanitarian agency for Palestinians closed all its offices in Gaza on Thursday after protesters stormed its headquarters to demand that it reverse a decision to cut an annual $40 handout to the poorest Gazans.

The storming of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) compound in Gaza Thursday was part of a dispute that has been brewing for weeks and was not connected to last week’s violence or to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit.

UNRWA provides assistance in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Gaza, and Yehudah and Shomron to some 5 million Palestinian refugees and their descendants, spread out across myriad camps.

The agency has said it will not resume work in Gaza, including food distribution to 800,000 Palestinians — nearly half the population of the enclave — unless it receives assurances from Hamas about the safety of its staff.

Hamas called the closure of UNRWA offices “unjustified.”

“When UNRWA’s administration called Palestinian security, they arrived, restored calm and ended the state of chaos,” said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri. “Therefore, we urge UNRWA to rethink its decision.”

UNRWA faced a $68-million shortfall in 2013 and took the decision to cut the $40 annual handout to 106,000 Gaza refugees to save some $5.5 million. To soften the blow, the agency was offering job schemes to help the poorest families.