Protests loom as cash-strapped UN agency cuts back on salaries

Protests loom as cash-strapped UN agency cuts back on salaries
UNRWA was established to provide assistance and protection to around six million Palestinian refugees. (File: Reuters)
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Updated 03 January 2021

Protests loom as cash-strapped UN agency cuts back on salaries

Protests loom as cash-strapped UN agency cuts back on salaries
  • Body needs $40m to pay staff and provide basic services

GAZA CITY: Workers have threatened to protest a decision by a cash-strapped UN agency to cut back on wages.

A spokeswoman for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) Tamara Al-Rifai said that about 80 percent of employees’ salaries were available for December. UNRWA would pay last month’s salaries in the middle of this week but, she added, “the full amount was not available.”

Unions representing the agency’s workers have refused to cover part of the salaries owed and threatened to protest the step. The agency delayed paying the November salaries of 28,000 employees by about 10 days.

Deputy head of the Arab Staff Union in UNRWA in Gaza, Abdul Aziz Abu Sweireh, said: “We refused to split the salary, because it is a right, so that it does not turn into a permanent policy that affects our rights.”

UNRWA announced in mid-November that it needed $40 million to pay its employees and provide direct basic services, especially in Syria and the Gaza Strip.

It provides assistance to Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and its services include education, health care, relief and social services, infrastructure, camp improvement, protection and microfinance.

Abu Sweireh said that UNRWA Commissioner-General Philip Lazzarini sent a message to staff last Thursday. It said: “The intensive efforts made over the past two days have resulted in our donors agreeing, exceptionally, to employ funds that were earmarked for purposes outside the program budget to enable UNRWA to pay salaries for the month of December, with the requirement that the amount be paid with the first payments that reach the agency at the beginning of 2021.”

Lazarini said in his letter that the measure was a “temporary solution to the financial crisis” and stressed that it would emerge again at the beginning of the new year if UNRWA did not receive sufficient financial resources.

Abu Sweireh told Arab News that the director of UNRWA operations in Gaza told them that the salary crisis would continue for two or three months until the international conference called by the UN agency was held, which is expected in April.

He believed the crisis was political not financial, and that there were countries that were working to “liquidate” UNRWA.

“We are very concerned about the recurrence of these crises over the past two years, and we do not feel job security, in addition to the danger threatening the lives of millions who are associated with financial and relief assistance from UNRWA.”

UNRWA was established as a UN agency by a General Assembly resolution in 1949. It is mandated to provide assistance and protection to around six million Palestinian refugees.

It launched an appeal in November for immediate support to enable it to “bridge the current deficit gap” and work on a longer plan covering the next two years based on multi-year funding instead of annual funding.

It said that the budget for its services in 2021 was similar to the budget of last year - $1.4 billion - but there had been great difficulty in mobilizing the financial resources for it, leading to a “dangerous financial situation.”

The coronavirus outbreak piled more pressure on UNRWA, but its financial problems were already exacerbated by the decision of US President Donald Trump in 2018 to stop an estimated $365 million of support to the agency.

Abu Sweireh expected that the UNRWA would make new “austerities” during the new year in various programs across its five areas of operations, especially in the employment and vacancy program and the relief aid program.

He said that the UNRWA salary announcement did not completely end the crisis and he expected there to be further conflicts and challenges in the coming period.

A member of the Joint Committee for Refugees, Ahmed Al-Mudallal, told Arab News that UNRWA’s procedures suggested that the conspiracy against the refugee issue had intensified its episodes of financial crisis, especially during Trump's last moments at the White House as he was “trying hard with his administration to save the deal of the century,” a reference to the outgoing president's Middle East peace plan that was launched last January.

The UN General Assembly has granted UNRWA a mandate to work that extends until March 2023 despite the pressure facing it.


Egypt to test visitors from countries with COVID-19 variants on arrival

Egypt to test visitors from countries with COVID-19 variants on arrival
Updated 08 May 2021

Egypt to test visitors from countries with COVID-19 variants on arrival

Egypt to test visitors from countries with COVID-19 variants on arrival

CAIRO: Egypt will require all visitors arriving from “countries where variants of the virus have appeared” to take a rapid COVID-19 test upon arrival, its health ministry said in a statement on Saturday.
The statement did not specify the countries from which passengers would take the 15-minute DNA test, called ID NOW.
Egypt’s new coronavirus cases have been steadily rising in recent weeks. On Saturday it reported 1,125 new cases and 65 deaths, although experts say that reflects only a fraction of total cases.
In a statement on Saturday, Egypt’s tourism ministry clarified that restaurants and coffee shops attached to hotels were exempt from a recent decree that such outlets as well as malls and stores would close at 9 p.m. local time (GMT +2) in order to not affect tourism.


Medics: 200 Palestinians hurt in Al-Aqsa clashes with police

Medics: 200 Palestinians hurt in Al-Aqsa clashes with police
Updated 08 May 2021

Medics: 200 Palestinians hurt in Al-Aqsa clashes with police

Medics: 200 Palestinians hurt in Al-Aqsa clashes with police
  • Clashes erupted when Israeli police deployed heavily as Muslims were performing evening prayers at Al-Aqsa

JERUSALEM: A night of heavy clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound and elsewhere in Jerusalem left more than 200 Palestinians wounded, medics said Saturday, as the city braced for even more violence after weeks of unrest.
Nightly protests broke out at the start of the holy month of Ramadan over police restrictions at a popular gathering place and have reignited in recent days over threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinians from their homes in east Jerusalem, which is claimed by both sides in the decades-old conflict.
It was unclear what set off the violence at Al-Aqsa, which erupted when Israeli police in riot gear deployed in large numbers as thousands of Muslim worshippers were holding evening prayers at the sprawling hilltop esplanade.
Throughout the night large groups of protesters could be seen hurling rocks as Israeli police fired rubber bullets and stun grenades. At one point, the police entered one of the buildings in the complex, which includes the Al-Aqsa mosque and the iconic golden Dome of the Rock.
The Palestinian Red Crescent emergency service said 88 of the wounded were hospitalized. The Palestinian Health Ministry said 83 people were wounded by rubber-coated bullets, including three who were shot in the eye, two with serious head injuries and two with broken jaws.
The Israeli police said protesters hurled stones, fireworks and other objects at them, wounding six officers who required medical treatment. “We will respond with a heavy hand to all violent disturbances, riots and attacks on our forces,” it said in a statement late Friday.
The Al-Aqsa mosque compound is the third holiest site in Islam. It is also the holiest site for Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount because it was the location of the biblical temples. It has long been a flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and was the epicenter of the 2000 Palestinian intifada, or uprising.
Some 70,000 worshippers had attended the final midday Friday prayers of Ramadan at Al-Aqsa, the Islamic endowment that oversees the site said. Thousands protested afterwards, waving the green flags of the Islamic militant group Hamas and chanting pro-Hamas slogans.
At the beginning of Ramadan in mid-April, Israel blocked off a popular gathering spot where Palestinians traditionally socialize at the end of their daylong fast. The move set off two weeks of clashes before Israel lifted the restrictions.
But in recent days, protests have grown over Israel's threatened eviction in Sheikh Jarrah in east Jerusalem of dozens of Palestinians embroiled in a long legal battle with Israeli settlers trying to acquire property in the neighborhood.
The United States said it was “deeply concerned” about both the violence and the threatened evictions, and was in contact with leaders on both sides to try and de-escalate tensions.
“It is critical to avoid steps that exacerbate tensions or take us farther away from peace,” the US State Department said in a statement. “This includes evictions in East Jerusalem, settlement activity, home demolitions, and acts of terrorism.”
The European Union also urged calm. It said the potential evictions were of “serious concern," adding that such actions are "illegal under international humanitarian law and only serve to fuel tensions on the ground.
Neighboring Jordan, which made peace with Israel in 1994 and is the custodian of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, has also condemned Israel's actions, as has the Gulf kingdom of Bahrain, which normalized relations with Israel last year in a US-brokered deal.
Israelis and Palestinians are bracing for more unrest in the coming days.
Sunday night is “Laylat al-Qadr” or the “Night of Destiny,” the most sacred in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Worshippers will gather for intense nighttime prayers at Al-Aqsa.
Sunday night is also the start of Jerusalem Day, a national holiday in which Israel celebrates its annexation of east Jerusalem and religious nationalists hold parades and other celebrations in the city. On Monday, an Israeli court is expected to issue a verdict on the evictions.
Israel captured east Jerusalem, along with the West Bank and Gaza — territories the Palestinians want for their future state — in the 1967 Mideast war. Israel annexed east Jerusalem in a move not recognized internationally and views the entire city as its capital.


Drone attack on Iraqi base hosting US troops

Drone attack on Iraqi base hosting US troops
Updated 08 May 2021

Drone attack on Iraqi base hosting US troops

Drone attack on Iraqi base hosting US troops
  • The US accuses Iran-backed militia groups of launching regular rocket attacks against its troops in Iraq

BAGHDAD: A drone strike early on Saturday targeted a military base in Iraq that hosts US troops, causing only minor damage and no casualties, Iraq’s military and the US-led coalition said.
The pore-dawn attack damaged a hangar, tweeted coalition spokesman Col. Wayne Marotto. He said the attack was under investigation. An Iraqi military statement also said no losses were reported.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attack. The US has blamed Iran-backed militia groups for previous attacks, most of them rocket attacks that have targeted the American presence in Baghdad and military bases across Iraq.
Drone strikes are less common. In mid-April, an explosive-laden drone targeted the military section of the international airport in Irbil, in Iraq’s northern Kurdish-run region, causing no casualties or damages. The base also hosts US troops.
The attacks have been frequent since a US-directed drone strike killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani near the Baghdad airport last year. Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis was also killed in the attack. The strike drew the ire of mostly Shiite Iraqi lawmakers and prompted parliament to pass a non-binding resolution to pressure the Iraqi government to oust foreign troops from the country.
The Biden administration has resumed strategic talks with Baghdad, initiated under President Donald Trump, in which the future of US troop presence in Iraq is a central point of discussion.


Philippines, Egypt added to Oman’s travel ban list

Philippines, Egypt added to Oman’s travel ban list
Updated 08 May 2021

Philippines, Egypt added to Oman’s travel ban list

Philippines, Egypt added to Oman’s travel ban list
  • Omani citizens, diplomats, health workers and their families are excluded from the latest rule

DUBAI: The Philippines and Egypt were the latest inclusion in Oman’s list where travelers from the said countries are banned from entering the Sultanate.

The decision was issued by the Supreme Committee, which takes lead in the country’s fight against the coronavirus pandemic, and took effect on Friday, May 7.

Travelers from Egypt and the Philippines, and those who transited in any of the said countries during the 14 days, are particularly affected by the travel restriction a report from Times of Oman said.

Omani citizens, diplomats, health workers and their families are excluded from the latest rule but are subject to the procedures adopted upon entering the Sultanate, the report added.

Oman earlier added India, Pakistan and Bangladesh to the travel ban list, joining Sudan, Lebanon, South Africa, Brazil, Nigeria, Tanzania, Ghana, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia and the United Kingdom where their residents have been barred from entering since February 24.


UAE reports 1,766 new COVID-19 cases, three deaths in last 24 hours

UAE reports 1,766 new COVID-19 cases, three deaths in last 24 hours
Updated 08 May 2021

UAE reports 1,766 new COVID-19 cases, three deaths in last 24 hours

UAE reports 1,766 new COVID-19 cases, three deaths in last 24 hours
  • The total number of recorded cases in the UAE is now at 532,710 since the pandemic began

DUBAI: UAE health authorities reported 1,766 new coronavirus cases after conducting 211,462 additional COVID-19 tests over the past 24 hours, as well three deaths fatalities from the contagious disease.

The total number of recorded cases in the UAE is now at 532,710 since the pandemic began, with 1,607 confirmed deaths, a report from state news agency WAM said.

The Ministry of Health and Prevention reiterated its call for residents to adhere coronavirus protocols and maintain social distancing to ensure public health and safety.

Meanwhile, 141,283 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been provided during the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of doses provided to residents and citizens to 11,048,547.

The rate of vaccine distribution now stands at 111.71 doses per 100 people.