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Cuts in UN food assistance set off outcry in Gaza

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Hundreds of women and children Wednesday protested cuts in a U.N. food-assistance program, the latest in a growing backlash by Palestinian refugees and their offspring in this forlorn coastal strip against the agency that for decades has provided them with nutrition, education and health services.

“People are getting poorer, and the agency’s directors nurture bellies,” they chanted outside the locked gates of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency. “We are under siege!”

Adnan Abu Hasna, a spokesman for the agency, said that it was facing a $55 million budget shortfall this year. The cuts that led to the recent complaints and rallies by Gaza residents and politicians were part of a shifting of resources based on a re-evaluation of the population’s needs, he said.

About 9,500 families were removed from the food program, Hasna said, because their economic situations had improved, while 5,400 poorer families were added. An additional 4,000 saw their benefits increased.

Hasna said the distribution of food is fair, adding that 830,000 people in Gaza — almost half the population — receive rations of flour, oil, sugar, rice and other staples every three months.

—Fares Akram, The New York Times

Norway says citizen may have been involved in Kenya mall siege

NAIROBI, Kenya — The Norwegian police said on Thursday that it was investigating whether a Norwegian citizen was involved in the deadly siege of the Westgate shopping mall here in late September. The Police Security Service said in a statement that it had “received information indicating that a Norwegian citizen of Somali origin allegedly was involved in the planning and execution of the attack.” The service said it had sent investigators to Nairobi to work with the Kenyan police and security services in their inquiry into the attack, in which Islamist militants stormed the mall and killed more than 60 men, women and children.

Al-Shabab, a militant group based in Somalia, claimed responsibility for the attack. Western security officials have been deeply worried about members of the Somali diaspora who have trained and fought for al-Shabab, fearing that they could return to the West and mount attacks there.

“We have lately seen an increase in the number of persons leaving Norway to take part in acts of war, attend training camps or join terrorist networks abroad,” the Norwegian authorities said. “We are concerned that this development may have an increasingly negative impact on the threat situation in Norway.”

—Nicholas Kulish, The New York Times

Safety agency cites Texas plant in explosion

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited the owners of a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, that blew up in April, killing 15 people, with 24 “serious violations,” Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said Thursday. But the agency has not announced the action because its public affairs staff has been furloughed by the government shutdown, Boxer said.

The violations included unsafe handling and storage of explosive and flammable chemicals, missing labels on storage tanks, failing to pressure-test hoses, bad or missing valves, and failing to have an emergency response plan. The agency also said that some workers were not trained for their jobs.

OSHA, which also proposed a fine of $118,300, decided to issue the citations now, during the government shutdown, to avoid a statute of limitations problem, Boxer said. She said that while the fine was disproportionately small, considering the deaths, injuries and widespread damage, other federal agencies were also investigating the explosion.

—Matthew L. Wald, The New York Times