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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 16 July 2018

Cash-strapped UNRWA talks funding at session, urges more pledges 

The UAE underlined the $50 million commitment made in April. 

epa06834433 Palestinian students celebrate during the 43th Graduation Ceremony at Birzeit University in the West Bank city of Ramallah, 23 June 2018. Birzeit University was the first institution of higher education established in Palestine. EPA/ALAA BADARNEH
epa06834433 Palestinian students celebrate during the 43th Graduation Ceremony at Birzeit University in the West Bank city of Ramallah, 23 June 2018. Birzeit University was the first institution of higher education established in Palestine. EPA/ALAA BADARNEH

The UAE underlined pledged funding for the UN agency for Palestinians as the body called for more support to help pay for vital services for over 5 million people after the US cut its allocation.

The UN held a conference to raise money for basic services — from food assistance and medical care to sanitation —in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

After the session, UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees spokesman Chriss Gunness told The National that the UN was still tallying the money discussed at the meeting as some funding raised had already been pledged and other funds were new. The agency is still trying to make up the shortfall of $250 million.

In April the UAE pledged $50 million to UNRWA and after Monday night’s session WAM news agency quoted Maisoon Al Dah, member of the Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York, calling on other states to increase pledges.

UN officials said the United States, the program's top donor, gave $364 million to the agency last year but only $60 million this year. Pierre Krahenbuhl, the agency's director, said the cut is endangering basic services such as food assistance in Gaza and medical clinics spread among the five areas, while about 500,000 children may not be able to start the school 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," he said at a briefing before the conference.

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In Gaza, nearly 2 million men, women and children already are experiencing extreme shortages of water and electricity amid tensions that have worsened between the Palestinians and Israel since President Donald Trump opened a U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem.

His administration announced in January that it was withholding $65 million of a planned $125 million funding instalment for the relief agency.

At the time, Trump tweeted that he saw no reason to spend so much American money in return for what he called "no appreciation or respect" from Palestinians.

Agency spokesman Christopher Gunness has said the actual cut was around $300 million because the U.S. had led the agency to believe it would provide $365 million in 2018. The U.S. government released $60 million in January so UNRWA could pay teachers and health workers and keep schools and medical services open in Gaza and the West Bank, but made clear that U.S. 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."

The agency was created after the war that followed the birth of Israel in 1948, with about 700,000 Palestinians living there either fleeing or being forced from their homes. The UNRWA now faces its worst crisis in nearly seven decades, Krahenbuhl said.

In a report to the Security Council earlier this month, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the desperate humanitarian situation in Gaza is compounded by the potential suspension of UN programs, which are "a lifeline for Palestinians."

The UAE official also noted that while efforts were being made to alleviate the plight of the Palestinian refugees, resolving the refugee crisis was dependent on resolving the Palestinian issue.

Mr Maisoon Al Dah outlined the UAE’s “long-standing commitment” to Palestinians and said that in 2017 and 2018 alone the country had contributed $130 million to Palestine through the UN agency.