- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 1, 2009

JERUSALEM (AP) - The Gaza head of the U.N. agency that aids Palestinian refugees said he will fire employees recently elected to lead its labor union if he finds they are involved with Palestinian political factions.

In a letter to his 10,000 staff, John Ging, the Gaza head of operations for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, said employees must not “be under the influence of any political party in the conduct of their work.” The letter, dated March 29, was obtained by The Associated Press on Wednesday.

His announcement came after rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas, both of which have armed wings, boasted of victories in union elections held over the past two weeks. Although no party affiliations appeared on ballots, the candidates campaigned as part of lists with known links to the two movements.

The militant Islamic Hamas governs Gaza, but most of the territory’s 1.4 million inhabitants rely on the UNRWA for education, health care, food aid and other services.

Ging’s letter highlights the tightrope the agency must walk, steering clear of local politics at the behest of international donors while it is the largest non-governmental employer in a society where political loyalties run deep.

The agency’s activities in Gaza expanded after Hamas seized the territory from Fatah in June 2007, bringing a blockade by neighboring Israel and Egypt and an international boycott of the new Hamas administration. The United States and the European Union classify Hamas as a terrorist group.

The U.N. role grew further after Israel’s recent Gaza offensive, which battered the territory’s infrastructure and increased the need for basic aid.



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