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US cutting of aid for UNRWA censured

A United Nations agency aiding Palestinian refugees in the Middle East, UNRWA, has censured the United States over its decision to cut funding for the body by more than half.

“The US has announced it will contribute $60 million to the program budget. There is for the moment no other indication of possible funding,” UNRWA Spokesman Chris Gunness told AFP on Wednesday, a day after Washington made the move.

He called the decision “regrettable” and said it “dramatically reduced contribution results in the most severe funding crisis in the history of the agency.”

Even before the US move, UNRWA, which stands for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, had announced that it had started 2018 with a $174-million budget deficit.

Jordan’s al-Ghad paper reported on Tuesday that UNRWA had laid off more than 100 of its staffers in Jordan due to the US refusal to allow the transfer of financial aid to the agency.

According to Gunness, the $60 million would keep schools and hospitals open for the time being, but he said that it was dramatically less than the $350 million Washington had paid during 2017.

The agency aids five million registered Palestinian refugees in the Middle East.

UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbüh also reacted harshly by saying, “At stake is the dignity and human security of millions of Palestine refugees, in need of emergency food assistance and other support in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and the West Bank and Gaza Strip.”

He said he would appeal to other donor nations for money and launch “a global fundraising campaign.”

Other reactions

The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) also reacted angrily to the US move, saying the decision targeted “the most vulnerable segment of the Palestinian people” and deprived the refugees “of the right to education, health, shelter and a dignified life,” according to the Associated Press.

Both Krähenbüh and the PLO also warned about other consequences.

“The reduced contribution also impacts regional security at a time when the Middle East faces multiple risks and threats, notably that of further radicalization,” Krähenbüh said.

The PLO said that the cut in aid “is also creating conditions that will generate further instability throughout the region and will demonstrate that it [US] has no compunction in targeting the innocent.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also warned that “vital services” being provided to the Palestinian people through UNRWA would be impacted.

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