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UK backs fight against extremism with new support for Gaza

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The UK today gave backing to a UN drive against extremism among young people in Gaza.

A year after the start of the Israeli bombardment of Gaza, International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander unveiled a =A353.5 million package, including measures to stop Gazan children becoming radicalised and secure the delivery of basic services across the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs).

=A37 million will be spent on emergency aid to help people to survive the winter and =A35 million will pay for 562 teachers to work for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which provides schooling for 206,000 children in Gaza.

Extremist groups in Gaza promote an ideology of violence and intolerance. With a curriculum based on justice, tolerance and human rights, UNRWA schools provide a vital defence against the growing potential - fuelled by fear, isolation and lack of hope - of children turning to extremism.

A further =A341.5 million will enable the Palestinian Authority (PA) to pay public sector salaries to keep basic services running across the OPTs.

Douglas Alexander, International Development Secretary, said:

"Better education in Gaza, free from extremist influences, is key to building the region's future.

"UNRWA is in the frontline in reversing the decline in education in Gaza. At the same time, its methods and curriculum actively promote human rights, and social and political tolerance.

"One year on from last winter's violence, the situation in Gaza remains dire, with large numbers of children lacking adequate shelter, access to water and a balanced diet.

"It is reprehensible to deprive ordinary people of the chance to rebuild their lives - punishing the poor and most vulnerable benefits no-one. I urge the Government of Israel to lift the restrictions on Gaza to ensure help can get through and that the new year offers new hope for thousands of people."

Welcoming the announcement, UNRWA's Director in Gaza, John Ging, said:

"Once again the British Government through DFID is leading the way among our most generous donors in responding to UNRWA's funding crisis.

"A broad and balanced education is the best weapon against radicalism in Gaza, and that is what we are trying to provide. Humanitarian assistance is of course welcome but giving young Palestinians the education and skills they need to succeed is what will ultimately secure the future of the region. Knowledge will help them to question violent extremism and give them the skills will see them achieve economically.

"Douglas Alexander is one of only a handful of EU Ministers who has visited Gaza this year and we appreciate the depth of his personal understanding and concern for the plight of the civilian population and in particular the children."

Notes to Editors

1. The =A353.5 million package includes:

- =A37m in emergency aid to Gaza

- =A35m for education, allowing UNRWA to employ teachers

- =A311.5m short term and a further =A330m over 2010 to support vital services delivered by the PA

2. The humanitarian funding will help to: provide food aid and meet other urgent needs; restore agricultural land damaged during the conflict, and kick start agriculture and fish-farming; create emergency employment for vulnerable families, and ensure they are able to access sufficient food and a balanced diet; and support further de-mining activities.

3. Following the conflict in Gaza, over 6,000 homes still need reconstruction or major repair, leaving 20,000 people displaced - 300 of them living in tents. 60 percent of Gazans are without daily access to running water while 75 percent are reliant on some form of food aid. In total, the UK has pledged almost =A347 million for immediate humanitarian assistance, early recovery and reconstruction in Gaza since the start of the conflict.

4. The funding for UNRWA will allow it to educate a further 18,500 students. UNRWA's 'Schools of Excellence' programme has improved pass rates of refugee pupils in Gaza by 20 percent in Arabic, and over 25 percent in Mathematics in 2007 and 2008. To do this, UNRWA employed 1,182 additional teachers, reduced class sizes, introduced evening remedial sessions and ran summer sessions for children who failed their exams. Its schools were reopened within two days of the end of the Israeli offensive in January.

5. DFID will sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the PA agreeing a short-term payment of =A311.5 million and setting out amounts and times for the payment of a total of =A330 million more over the course of 2010. The UK is the first country to enter into such an agreement, meaning the PA can better plan delivery of vital services.

For further information contact Chris Kiggell in the DFID Press Office on 020 7023 0504 or email c-kiggell@dfid.gov.uk