Palestinians Take to Streets Over UNWRA Strike

JALAZOUN (Reuters) -

Residents of Palestinian refugee camps burned tires and closed roads in Yehudah and Shomron on Thursday in protests stemming from a month-long strike by the U.N. agency that operates the camps.

The demonstrations came as the Palestinian economy falters and while aid agencies struggle to cope with deepening refugee crises related to the civil war in neighboring Syria.

Scores of youths blocked a main road outside the Jalazoun refugee camp north of  Ramallah, as well as roads linking other camps inside the city, to vent their anger over a lack of services normally provided by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

“The trash here is piled up so high we can’t even sleep at night for the smell,” said camp resident Mahdi Ahmed, 20.

“The UNWRA strike has gone on for 35 days, and there are no clinics, no jobs, no education. We’re being strangled little by little.”

A Palestinian labor union went on strike last month over salaries. UNRWA employs more than 5,000 Palestinians in its 19 camps for some 730,000 refugees.

The union also objected to a one-off $140 bonus their counterparts in neighboring Jordan received.

Diplomatic sources told Reuters the bonus, suggested in part by the United States, aimed at shoring up stability in Jordan, which has taken in over 600,000 refugees from Syria and is already home to more than 2 million Palestinian refugees.

The U.N. agency has said it is trying to end the strike but does not have funds to meet the wage demands. It also says its employees get paid at least 20 percent and in some cases 80 percent more than public-sector employees in equivalent fields.