UNRWA Threatens to Fire Gaza Employees With Declared Hamas, Fatah Loyalties

Warning came after election for UNRWA trade union chair, which will be led by Fatah affiliates.

Following an internal election within UNRWA, the agency's management has warned it may fire employees who violated the organization's nonpartisan policy by affiliating with political factions in Gaza - namely Fatah and Hamas.

The warning came as the election for the chairmanship of UNRWA trade union ended Monday. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East is a major source of employment in Gaza.

For the first time in 12 years, the union will be led by Fatah affiliates. However, Hamas is claiming their party members were the real winners.

The final vote on Monday was held following an earlier election. Most UNRWA employees who voted support Hamas-affiliated candidates.

However, Fatah affiliates were voted to lead the union through a special representation system, which carves up the electorate into three unequally-sized constituencies. Although the candidates' political affiliation was common knowledge among the voters, the candidates are not officially affiliated with any party, as this would conflict with UNRWA regulations.

UNRAW's director of operations, John Ging, hinted that the elected stand to lose their jobs unless they disassociate themselves from political parties.

In a letter considered harsh coming from him, Ging wrote that he would address the elected about this "worrisome situation," and that his decision on their future employment would be "dependent" on their reaction.

Hamas, which some believe has lost popular support following Operation Cast Lead, has been especially vocal in declaring victory in the union election. The organization's media stated that 63 percent of all voters voted for Hamas candidates, who won 17 out of the 27 board seats in the three sectors.

Fatah supporters, meanwhile, announced that their comrades had clinched five out of nine seats in the trade union's executive council, giving them the power to appoint the chairman, deputy chairman and secretary.

During his three years in Gaza, Ging has taken a few steps to implement the ban on political involvement by UNRWA employees. Ging sought to end political propaganda within schools, and to stop employees from making political or bellicose statements to the media.

In his letter, which he sent to a small group of employees, Ging noted that parties "hostile" to UNRWA have over the past few years advertised the victory of various political candidates within internal UNRWA elections. However, he wrote that the 2009 election was the first time that such declarations came from people inside the Strip, giving their statements added credibility.

The trade union election, which began last Wednesday and ended on Monday, had some 10,000 voters in total, including 7,000 educational workers, 2,000 heath and administrative workers and 1,000 manual laborers.

The educators elected 11 representatives, all of whom are affiliated with Hamas. The health and administrative workers elected nine representatives, five of whom were affiliated with Fatah and four with Hamas. The laborers elected seven people: Four Fatah men, two Hamas men and one independent candidate considered close to Fatah leftists.