The International Committee of the Red Cross says it is extending an aid program that benefits thousands of Palestinians in nine cities in the West Bank. The program will now continue until June, three months longer than originally planned.
The International Committee of the Red Cross says the so-called "urban voucher program" is providing as much as 20 percent of the urban Palestinian population with basic food and a range of other products.
The Swiss-based humanitarian organization says more than 60 percent of Palestinians are unemployed and 70 percent of them live on less than $2 a day.
The head of the ICRC's Near East operations, Patrick Vial, pointed out that these people have no money to spend on their most basic needs. He said the Red Cross decided that providing vouchers, coupons that can be exchanged for food and other goods, gives the people more flexibility.
"They have an element of choice," he said. "They are able to choose, to exchange the voucher against some goods which they can choose. So, that somehow respects the dignity of those persons concerned."
Twenty-thousand families, around 120,000 people, participate in the voucher scheme. Each family receives one monthly voucher worth about $90. These vouchers can be exchanged at one of several pre-selected shops for basic food, fresh food, hygiene items, household products and school items.
Palestinians have to fulfill certain criteria to be eligible for the program. They cannot, for example, receive assistance from any other aid organization. Mr. Vial said the key factor is that people have to be in need.
"We have social and hardship cases. We have widows or handicapped or elderly heads of households," he explained. "We also have families whose principal productive assets - it can be a truck, a taxi, it can be a shop - has been destroyed, or it can be a family whose key productive member was killed or has been unemployed for a long period of time."
ICRC official Patrick Vial said Red Cross teams carry out continuous monitoring of the beneficiaries and the partner traders to make sure the voucher program is not abused. On the whole, he said it is working well.
He noted the program was designed as a temporary solution to an urgent problem. He went on to say the original intent was to phase it out by March. But, he added it has been extended until the end of June. This is because of delays in the distribution of vouchers due to almost constant curfews and closures imposed in the main West Bank cities by Israel.