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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 October 2018

Palestinian refugee agency gets $118 million in new funding

Kuwait and European Union among biggest contributors to UNRWA

A Palestinian demonstrator holds a United Nations' flag during a rally against a US decision to cut funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and in support of president Mahmoud Abbas, in Bethlehem. Reuters 
A Palestinian demonstrator holds a United Nations' flag during a rally against a US decision to cut funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and in support of president Mahmoud Abbas, in Bethlehem. Reuters 

The Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA received pledges of $118 million from donor countries to help it overcome a crisis triggered by US funding cuts.

Kuwait and the European Union were among the biggest contributors along with Germany, Ireland and Norway, UNRWA chief Pierre Kraehenbuehl told a news conference. France said it would contribute next year.

The United States, which was by far the biggest contributor to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), announced in August that it would no longer fund the agency.

Mr Kraehenbuehl said on Thursday the new funds were "a significant step in the direction of overcoming UNRWA's greatest and gravest financial crisis ever", adding that the shortfall in the annual budget now stood at $68 million.

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The administration of President Donald Trump has backed Israel in accusing UNRWA of perpetuating the Middle East conflict by maintaining the idea that millions of Palestinians are refugees with a right to return to homes in what is now Israel.

Created in 1949, the agency supplies aid to more than three million of the five million registered Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinian territories.

Jordan's Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi, who co-hosted the meeting on UNRWA's funding crisis on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session, said discussions were under way on ensuring long-term financing for the agency.

Mr Safadi said the international community had a "firm, unwavering" commitment to keep UNRWA alive and ensure it continues to provide health and education services to Palestinian refugees.

Aside from cutting funds to UNRWA, the Trump administration has also cut $200 million in bilateral aid to the Palestinians for projects in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

In his address to the General Assembly on Tuesday, Mr Trump said the United States would only give foreign aid "to those who respect us and frankly are our friends."