United States withholds $65 million from UN agency for Palestinians

US holds back $65m aid to Palestinians

UNRWA, the United Nations refugee agency responsible for Palestinians, will launch a global fundraiser to make up for tens of millions of dollars withheld by U.S. President Donald Trump.

Considering the financial difficulties which UNRWA now faces, the Belgian annual contribution will be disbursed immediately.

Washington announced on Tuesday it would provide $60 million to the UNRWA while keeping back a further $65 million for now.

The head of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), Pierre Krahenbuhl, expressed alarm and immediately called on other UN members to contribute.

The UNRWA operates 700 schools, serving more than 500,000 students. Living conditions in Gaza, Syria, the West bank and elsewhere in the region are particularly tough.

Among the group's projects are helping half a million children get an education and fending off attempts to radicalize them.

The Arab League chief had earlier responded to the American cut as well, saying the decision to freeze the funding was aimed at wiping out the whole issue of "Palestinian refugees".

"The United States government and the Trump administration believe that there should be more so-called burden-sharing to go around", said Nauert. Trump wrote that "with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?"

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Asked on Wednesday by Israeli reporters accompanying him on a diplomatic trip to India whether he supports the US funding cut, Netanyahu said: "Of course, but I still suggest, because I think there are certain needs, to do what I have said... every step taken also contains some risk".

Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said in a Twitter post on Tuesday that Washington was "holding Palestinian kids' humanitarian needs hostage to political agendas".

The US's $370m dwarfs the amount given by other donors - in 2016, the second-largest donor, the European Union, gave less than half as much to UNWRA, which runs educational, health and social programmes.

In the coming years, "Belgium, along with the European Union and countries from the region, will continue to support UNRWA and the Palestinian refugees", De Croo's statement said.

On Sunday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas sharply attacked Mr Trump's Middle East peace efforts, saying he would not accept any peace plan from the U.S. after it recognised Jerusalem past year as Israel's capital.

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians either fled or were forced from their homes during the war that led to Israel's establishment in 1948.

"UNRWA has proven time and again to be an agency that misuses the humanitarian aid of the worldwide community and instead supports anti-Israel propaganda, perpetuates the plight of Palestinian refugees and encourages hate", said Danny Danon, Israel's ambassador to the UN.

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