News / Middle East

Palestinian Tensions Simmer Ahead of Kerry Visit

Palestinian children ride a donkey cart past a U.N. food distribution center in Khan Younis refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip, April 5, 2013.
Palestinian children ride a donkey cart past a U.N. food distribution center in Khan Younis refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip, April 5, 2013.
Islamist group Hamas on Friday urged a United Nations agency to resume its operations in the Gaza Strip, accusing the world body of over-reacting by shutting down after its headquarters was stormed by demonstrators.
The main U.N. humanitarian agency for Palestinians closed all its offices in Gaza on Thursday after protesters stormed its headquarters to demand it reverse a decision to cut an annual $40 handout to the poorest Gazans.
The dispute comes against a broader backdrop of growing Palestinian unrest in both Gaza and the occupied West Bank, with no end in sight to the decades-old Middle East conflict.
Secretary of State John Kerry's Trip

  • April 6:  Istanbul, Turkey for talks with senior officials
  • April 7-9:  Jerusalem and Ramallah for talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders
  • April 10-11: London for the G8 Foreign Ministers Meeting
  • April 12: Seoul, South Korea
  • April 13: Beijing, China
  • April 14: Tokyo, Japan
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is due to return to Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy on Sunday, with meetings scheduled in both Ramallah and Jerusalem from April 7-9, just two weeks after President Barack Obama's first visit to the region.
Like Obama before him, Kerry is not expected to bring any new initiative to revive peace talks, which broke down in 2010.
The past week saw violent clashes between youths and Israeli security forces in the West Bank, which raised fears that a new uprising, or Intifada, might be brewing. There were reports of sporadic confrontations on Friday, but not on the same scale as earlier in the week.
In another sign of the tensions, rockets were fired out of Gaza for three days running this week, while Israeli warplanes carried out their first strike on the territory since November.
The storming of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) compound in Gaza on Thursday was part of a dispute that has been brewing for weeks and was not tied to diplomatic events, but it laid bare the frustration brewing amongst Palestinians.

UNRWA provides assistance in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Gaza and the West Bank to Palestinian refugees and their descendants — now put at some five million spread across myriad camps.
The agency has said it will not resume work in Gaza, including food distribution to 800,000 Palestinians — nearly half the enclave's population — unless it receives assurances from Hamas over the safety of its staff.
"People are demonstrating because they're frustrated and the situation in Gaza just seems to be getting worse," said Robert Turner, the director of UNRWA operations in Gaza.
"We respect everyone's right to peaceful protest, but what happened yesterday was unacceptable," he told Reuters, saying initial reports suggested up to 200 demonstrators, some carrying iron rods, had forced their way into the UNRWA compound.
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."
Turner said 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.
News that food centers had been shut down shocked Gaza.
"If UNRWA closes down the food distribution centers, it would lead to a disaster," said Fathi Al-Seidi, 30, who lives in a refugee camp. He added that locals were dependent on the UNRWA aid and cash from Western-backed authorities in the West Bank.
"Without this, life will be equal to zero," he said.
U.N. officials said UNRWA appeared to be bearing the brunt of disillusionment in Gaza that followed a short-lived spurt of optimism last November when a ceasefire deal between Hamas and Israel raised hopes of an easing of restrictions on the enclave.
Israel, supported by Egypt, imposes a partial trade blockade on Gaza, saying it is needed to prevent arms reaching Hamas, which does not recognize Israel and has not renounced violence.
Since the November truce, which ended eight days of fighting, the restrictions have barely changed while Egypt has launched a crackdown on illegal smuggling tunnels into Gaza.
Underscoring Hamas's difficulties, the group's leader Khaled Meshaal said on Thursday it faced a "financial problem," suggesting Arab allies were not providing sufficient aid.

You May Like

US, China Have Dueling Definitions of Cybersecurity

Analysts say attribution or or proving that a particular individual or government is responsible for a hack, is a daunting task More

Snowden: I'd Go to Prison to Return to US

Former NSA contractor says he has not received a formal plea-deal offer from US officials, who consider him to be a traitor More

Goodbye Pocahontas: Photos Reveal Today's Real Native Americans

Weary of stereotypes, photographer Matika Wilbur is determined to reshape the public's perception of her people More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Making a Minti
October 07, 2015 4:17 AM
While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video Self-Driving Cars Getting Closer

We are at the dawn of the robotic car age and should start getting used to seeing self-driving cars, at least on highways. Car and truck manufacturers are now running a tight race to see who will be the first to hit the street, while some taxicab companies are already planning to upgrade their fleets. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Clinton Seeks to Boost Image Before Upcoming Debate

The five announced Democratic party presidential contenders meet in their first debate next Tuesday in Las Vegas, Nevada. Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton continues to lead the Democratic field, but she is getting a stronger-than-expected challenge from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

Video Music Brings Generations Together

When musicians over the age of 50 headline a rock concert, you expect to see baby boomer fans in the audience. Boomer rock stars have boomer fans. Millennial rock stars have millennial fans. But this isn’t always the case. Take the Lockn’ Music festival which took place in mid-September in rural Arrington, Virginia. Here, Jacquelyn de Phillips discovered two generations of people who are considered quite different in the outside world, spending 4 days together in music-loving harmony.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

Video South Carolina Reels Under Worst-ever Flooding

South Carolina is reeling from the worst flooding in recorded history that forced residents from their homes and left thousands without drinking water and electricity. Parts of the state, including the capital, Columbia, received about 60 centimeters of rain in just a couple of days. Authorities warn that the end of rain does not mean the end of danger, as it will take days for the water to recede. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

VOA Blogs