Gaza strike shuts first day of school for more than 200,000

A Palestinian girl makes her way though the rubble of destroyed buildings as she heads home from school on March 11, 2015 in Beit Hanun, northern Gaza (AFP Photo/Mohammed Abed) (AFP/File)

Gaza City (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) - A strike by teachers and personnel in Gaza kept more than 200,000 children from returning to school for the new term Monday, as the UN agency that employs them struggles financially.

Several thousand teachers, assistants and administrative personnel protested in front of the headquarters of UNRWA, the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees.

The union for UNRWA staff in the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian territory hit hard by three wars in six years, an Israeli blockade and economic crisis, called for the protest with some employees at risk of losing jobs because of a lack of financing.

Out of a population of 1.8 million in Gaza, some 1.26 million are refugees, according to UN figures. UNRWA oversees education for most children -- some 225,000 in 245 schools.

Dozens of schools were damaged and affected by last summer's war between Palestinian militants and Israel.

UNRWA, mainly financed by state members of the United Nations, has struggled with money shortages for years.

The agency had raised the possibility of delaying the start of the new school term and laying off some staff for a year due to a lack of contributions from international donors.

New financial support allowed UNRWA to freeze those plans, but its employees are demanding that they be dropped entirely.

In the West Bank, the other Palestinian territory, children returned to school amid tributes to the 18-month-old boy killed last month along with his father when their home was firebombed by suspected Jewish extremists.

The school in Duma, the Palestinian village in the West Bank where the incident occurred, was renamed after the toddler, Ali Saad Dawabsha. The school year in the village was symbolically reopened by prime minister Rami Hamdallah.

The boy's mother, Riham, taught at a school in a neighbouring village. She remains in hospital with severe burns along with her other son, who is four.

"The students are asking for any news about their teacher," Ahlam al-Masri, the principal of her school, told AFP.

"This morning we all prayed for her recovery and for the souls of her son and her husband."