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USA ends funding for UN Palestinian refugee agency

USA ends funding for UN Palestinian refugee agency

Multiple outlets reported on Thursday that the Trump administration plans to suspend most aid to a long-running United Nations program that supports Palestinian refugees, the latest in its efforts to exert leverage over Palestinian leadership on key elements of a Middle East peace process.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the business model and fiscal practices of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) were an "irredeemably flawed operation".

The U.S. supplies almost 30 per cent of the total budget of the UN Relief and Works Agency, which provides health care, education and social services to Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

There have been widespread warnings about the impact about a halt to funding from the USA which contributed $350 million to UNRWA's budget a year ago.

Just hours after the Palestinians warned such a move would further undermine the already flailing chances of peace with Israel, Nauert said there would be no additional contributions beyond a $60 million dollar payment made in January.

The move, which comes a week after Washington cut more than US$200 million in USA aid to the Palestinians, is likely to heighten tensions between the Palestinian leadership and the Trump administration.

Dave Harden, a former US Agency for International Development official, told Foreign Policy that the decision to cut UNWRA funding could embolden Hamas.

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But worldwide efforts appear to have done little to assuage the Trump administration's concerns over the United Nations agency's fundamental business model, which it called "simply unsustainable" and described as being in "crisis mode for many years".

President Trump has long called for other nations to step up and share the "burden of costs", and while efforts have been made to address the issue, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said that "the overall global response has not been sufficient".

Earlier this week, the US announced it would cut more than $200 million in aid to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas speaks during a joint news conference with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov following their meeting in Moscow, May 10, 2018.

Israel and the United States have both accused UNRWA of perpetuating the Israel-Palestinian crisis by maintaining the idea of the right of return - that Palestinians will be able to return to the homes from which they fled.

"The loss of this organization could unleash an uncontrollable chain reaction", he said.

"We are very mindful of and deeply concerned regarding the impact upon innocent Palestinians, especially school children, of the failure of UNRWA and key members of the regional and worldwide donor community to reform and reset the UNRWA way of doing business", she said. The Palestinian leadership has angered the White House by boycotting its peace efforts since President Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel's capital and moved the embassy there in a reversal of decades of US policy.

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