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UNRWA pulls out foreign staff from Gaza Strip over 'security concerns'

The UN agency has faced strikes and protests from its 13,000 workers in Gaza since July over pay cuts and job losses
A Palestinian demonstrator holds UN flag during a rally against a US decision to cut funding to UNRWA, 26 September (Reuters)

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees said on Monday that it was temporarily withdrawing part of its foreign staff from the Gaza Strip following "security concerns" linked to job cuts in the besieged enclave.

Sami Mshasha, UNRWA's spokesman, said in a statement that the UN agency "decided to temporarily withdraw part of its international staff from Gaza following a series of worrying security incidents affecting its personnel in the Strip".

Mshasha added that UNRWA's director will remain in Gaza and the agency will maintain its operations.

A source with knowledge of the situation told AFP that six of UNRWA's foreign staffers remained out of the 19 who are based in Gaza. 

The Israeli defence ministry unit that oversees the crossing told AFP that a number of foreign employees from the agency "were evacuated from the Gaza Strip to Israel" on Monday.

The statement did not clarify what the security concerns were but UNRWA has faced protests over pay and job cuts.

On Monday, a demonstration was held outside a Gaza City hotel where UNRWA's officials were meeting.

Mshasha added in the statement that "earlier today, a number of staff were harassed and prevented from carrying out their duties. Some of these actions have specifically targeted the UNRWA management in Gaza".

UNRWA's Palestinian employees in the Strip have held strikes, sit-ins and other protests since the agency announced in July that it was cutting more than 250 jobs in Gaza and the occupied West Bank.

Hundreds of full-time roles have also become part-time.

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Laid-off workers warn that their families will be at serious risk in blockaded Gaza, where unemployment is at some 53 percent.

UNRWA's head in Gaza has previously accused the agency's labour union in the enclave of "mutiny".

Created in 1949, the agency supplies aid to more than three million of the five million eligible Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinian territories.

Around 13,000 people work for UNRWA in Gaza, where more than two-thirds of the roughly two million residents are eligible for aid.

The United States has traditionally been UNRWA's largest contributor, providing around $350m a year, but the Trump administration has cancelled all support.

The agency received pledges of $118m from donor countries last week to help it overcome the funding crisis, but still faces a shortfall of $68m.