US Withholds $65 Million From UN's Palestinian Refugee Agency, Calls for Changes

UNRWA a lifeline we can't afford to lose, refugees say

"We would like to see some reforms be made", State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters on Tuesday.

UNRWA's secretary-general, Pierre Krähenbühl, said the fundraising appeal would begin in the coming days.

Nauert said the USA voluntarily pledged $60 million for 2018 to sustain schools and health services but the rest of the money is "being frozen at this time" and "held for future consideration".

Trump's aides initially debated whether to cut off all UNRWA aid, an unidentified United States official said, but those opposed argued that could further destabilise the region. "We're not going to reward bad behavior". The letter also makes clear that additional U.S. donations will be contingent on major changes by UNRWA, which has been heavily criticised by Israel.

"The reduced contribution also impacts regional security at a time when the Middle East faces multiple risks and threats, notably that of further radicalisation", he said. But after a highly critical January 2 tweet from Trump on aid to the Palestinians, the State Department opted to wait for a formal policy decision before sending its first installment.

During the now-defunct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the PA demanded a return to the pre-1967 armistice lines, dubbed "Auschwitz borders" because they're indefensible, putting Jewish and Christian holy sites under Palestinian control and flooding the truncated Jewish state with thousands of "refugees", effectively eliminating it.

In a statement on behalf of the PLO executive committee, Hanan Ashrawi accused the White House of "following Netanyahu's instructions".

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The agency has laid off dozens of staff members in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and more than 100 employees in Jordan because of the delay and subsequent cut in the USA payment, Haaretz reported on Monday.

She accused the United States of "targeting the most vulnerable segment of the Palestinian people".

Millions of Palestinian refugees, 1948 survivors and their descendants, are scattered in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and across neighbouring Arab countries. "At stake is the access of refugees to primary healthcare, including prenatal care and other lifesaving services".

"Children's access to basic humanitarian services is not a bargaining chip but a U.S. and global obligation", Palestinian Ambassador to the U.S. Husam Zomlot (who is a Palestinian refugee from Al-Shabura camp in southern Gaza) said in a statement released today from Washington DC.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he had not been informed of Washington's decision, but was "very concerned" by reports that it was in the works.

Following Trump's outburst, it was reported that his ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley had been pushing for a complete end to USA aid to UNRWA. "When we say that we're basically looking at the fact that you've got, basically they're considering Palestinian as a refugee".

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