RAFAH, Gaza Strip (AFP) - The UN agency for Palestinian refugees on Thursday launched a campaign to distribute 200,000 laptops to schoolchildren in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, a spokesman said.
The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) plans to distribute half a million devices to refugees across the Middle East by the end of 2012, spokesman Adnan Abu Hasna said.
"The campaign is beginning today in refugee schools in (the southern Gaza town of) Rafah, with the distribution of 2,200 laptops as part of a plan to distribute 200,000 laptops to our students in the Gaza Strip," he said.
The plan calls for linking pupils and teachers via wireless Internet "so that the students can continue their studies during crises," Abu Hasna added.
The programme is expected to cost more than 30 million dollars (23 million euros) and has received funding from US-based One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) and the Jordan Hashemite Charity Organisation, a UN official said on condition of anonymity.
At the official launch at an UNRWA primary school in Rafah, the schoolchildren beamed as they received the green and white laptops, which are designed to be durable and energy efficient.
Many said they looked forward to using the computers to chat with friends and play computer games.
Nicholas Negroponte, the chairman and founder of OLPC, said he did not expect the project to encounter any obstacles and that Israel's President Shimon Peres had lent his personal support to it.
Some 200 teachers at UNRWA-run schools have already been trained to incorporate the computers in their lessons, and UNRWA and OLPC are currently developing electronic textbooks for an entire primary school curriculum.
Israel and Egypt have sealed Gaza off to all but basic goods since the Islamist Hamas movement seized power in June 2007, but Israel has allowed UNRWA to bring in humanitarian aid and a limited amount of construction materials.
Some 80 percent of Gaza's 1.5 million residents rely on foreign aid.
UNRWA provides humanitarian assistance as well as health and education services to more than 4.7 million registered Palestinian refugees in Gaza, the occupied West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
The refugees are the descendants of the 750,000 Palestinians displaced from what is now Israel during the 1948 war that attended the creation of the Jewish state.
More than one million refugees live in Gaza, where they make up two-thirds of the population.