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US aid cut to Palestinian refugees is endangering food, medical and education services, UNRWA says

WASHINGTON’S much-reduced contribution to funds caring for Palestinian refugees is endangering food, medical and education services, says United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) director Pierre Krahenbuhl.

UNRWA provides basic services for five million Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

The US was previously the biggest UNRWA donor, giving $364 million (£275m) to the agency last year but only $60m (£45m) this year.

“The situation of Palestinians is defined by great anxiety and uncertainty, first because Palestinian refugees do not see a solution to their plight on the horizon,” said Mr Krahenbuhl in New York on Monday.

UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres tweeted to say that UNRWA is about helping Palestinian refugees building a foundation of dignity and hope for the future.

UN officials implored member countries to fill the critical funding gap that the Trump administration created by sharply cutting the US contribution to the programme.

The US administration announced in January that it was withholding $65m (£49m) of a planned $125m (£94m) funding instalment for the relief agency.

President Donald Trump tweeted that he saw no reason to spend so much money in return for “no appreciation or respect” from Palestinians.

UNRWA spokesman Christopher Gunness says the actual cut was around $300m (£227m) because the US had led the agency to believe that it would provide $365m (£276m) this year.

The US government released $60m in January so that UNRWA could pay teachers and health workers and keep schools and medical services open in Gaza and the West Bank, but it made clear that US donations would be contingent on major reforms.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said last week that the agency needs to “determine a way to better manage its budgeting and its finances.”

Islamist resistance group Hamas is pushing the UN to incorporate the budget of the UNRWA into the main world body’s budget, stressing that “radical solutions” are critical to averting a refugee crisis.

“The UN should take a responsible decision by approving the agency’s budget as part of its primary budget,” it said.

Hamas added that Arab and Muslim states should “live up to their pledges” and contribute to funding UNWRA.

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