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US cutting all funds to Palestinian refugee programme ‘a flagrant assault against the people’

PALESTINIAN President Mahmoud Abbas warned of a “flagrant assault against the Palestinian people”yesteday after the United States cut all its funding to the UN Palestinian refugee programme.

The anticipated funding announcement was made by the US on Friday as it branded the United Nations relief and works agency (UNRWA) “irredeemably flawed.”

A number of countries expressed their concern at the decision, with Germany promising to increase funding for the body, which supports five million Palestinian refugees in Gaza, the occupied West Bank, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

However Israel confirmed its support for the US cuts, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office saying: “Consolidating the refugee status of Palestinians is one of the problems that perpetuates the conflict.”

Both Israel and the US dispute the figures for the number of Palestinians who are deemed to be refugees and claim the numbers should be considerably fewer than the five million claimed by the UN which includes the descendants of those forced to flee their homes in 1948 when the state of Israel was established.

US President Donald Trump withheld around half of its funding to the agency in January this year, demanding reforms to the way it works.

He is unhappy that the US shoulders a “very disproportionate share of the burden of UNRWA’s costs,” providing $368m (£284m) in 2016 and funding almost 30 per cent of the agency’s work.

But UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness warned that some of the Middle East’s most “fragile and vulnerable” communities are likely to suffer, with the agency providing education to 526,000 children a day and assisting 1.7 million food insecure people.

Palestine Liberation Organisation spokeswoman Hanan Ashwari blasted the US decision as reckless and inhumane, accusing it of “doing Israel’s bidding” and damaging prospects for peace in the region.

“The US administration’s decision to terminate all funding to UNRWA is a cruel and irresponsible move targeting the most vulnerable segment of Palestinian society,” she said.

“The Palestinian refugees are already the victims who have lost their homes, livelihoods and security as a result of the creation of the state of Israel and, once again, they are being victimised by the US administration in support of Israel’s decades-long military occupation and impunity.”

She called on the international community to “shoulder their responsibilities towards the Palestinian refugees” and increase financial support and assistance.

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