UN Palestinian refugee agency urges West Bank workers to end strike

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The United Nations Palestinian refugee agency on Wednesday called on the West Bank local staff union to end a strike, saying the stoppage was hindering access for hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees to basic services.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) said the West Bank Area Staff Union (ASU) had issued threats and intimidated employees who were trying to work despite the strike. The head of the union denied the accusation.

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“UNRWA calls on the ASU to end the strike and to stop intimidating those colleagues who are working to deliver services to the communities in line with the United Nations values,” it said in a statement.

“More than ever, we must strike the balance between the right to strike, the right to work and the right of Palestine refugees to access basic services.”

Jamal Abdallah, head of the union representing workers paid by the agency in the West Bank, contested the agency’s claim it was making threats, and pledged to continue striking until salary increase demands were met.

“We neither threatened nor forced anyone to go on strike and we didn’t close any headquarters or institutions,” he said.

UNRWA said that since West Bank local staff declared a strike in early March, many services to nearly 900,000 Palestine Refugees across the region had been suspended.

Established in 1949 following the first Arab-Israeli war, it provides public services including schools, primary healthcare and humanitarian aid in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

In January UNRWA appealed for $1.6 billion in funding after its head warned it was struggling to fulfil its mandate due to spiraling costs and shrinking resources.

It said the union was demanding a pay increase “even though the salaries are already above the pay policy and even though the Agency has no money to pay.”

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