Palestinian protesters, police injured during clashes over West Bank roadblocks
Protesters angered by UN strike, which has shut down schools, health facilities and garbage collection in refugee camps near Ramallah.
Over a hundred Palestinians were injured on Sunday when protesters and police clashed outside the Jelazoun refugee camp north of Ramallah. The clashes occurred when police attempted to dismantle road blocks that had been erected earlier in the morning.
According to the protesters, police used tear gas and stun grenades against them. More than 40 policemen were injured during the clashes, according to a Palestinian police spokesman, while the Jelazoun Popular Committee reported over 70 protesters injured.
The roads were eventually reopened.
The road blocks on several major roads in Ramallah and to its north were erected to protest a month-long strike by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency that operates refugee camps in the area. Ma'an news agency reported that roads near two refugee camps and another village close to Ramallah were blocked with burning tires and other obstacles.
Last Thursday, 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 UNRWA.
"The trash here is piled up so high we can't even sleep at night for the smell," camp resident Mahdi Ahmed, 20, told Reuters.
"The UNWRA strike has gone on for 35 days, and there are no clinics, no jobs, no education. What hope is there for this generation? 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 West Bank refugees.
The union also objected to a one-off $140 bonus their counterparts in neighboring Jordan received.
The UN 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.
"The general Palestinian public seems increasingly appalled," UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness told Reuters.
"The strike has deprived some 51,000 children of an education, shut down 42 health facilities, denied 5,800 of the most vulnerable refugees urgently needed relief services and withheld financial support from 5,100 refugee families."
Palestinian observers have noted increasing frustration and anger in the refugee camps in the West Bank. On the one hand, UNRWA is suffering budget cuts and has to provide funds for the humanitarian crisis at the Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria. On the other hand, the Palestinian Authority does not participate in the funding of the camps, among other reasons because the camps are meant to be under international supervision until the political solution of the refugee problem.
Additionally, the financial crisis in the West Bank has hit the camps harder than the villages, where there is at least land from which residents can scrape a subsistence living.
Several UNRWA workers who were retrenched in December are on a hunger strike in a tent at the Dehaishe refugee camp. An UNRWA spokesperson said that the strikers were temporary workers and that the funding for the projects they were working on had been cut from $40 million to $12 million. The strikers said they had been employed for years prior to their retrenchment.
Unemployment and poverty in the Palestinian territories both hover around 25 percent.
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