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US reneges on pledge to pay $45 million for Palestinian refugees

A Palestinian man walks past the building of the UNRWA headquarters in Gaza City on January 8, 2018. (AFP photo)

The United States has reneged on a pledge to contribute $45 million to a United Nations agency tasked with providing services for Palestinian refugees, adding to cutbacks announced earlier this week.

The US State Department said on Thursday that the $45 million was a pledge to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) to help it with “forecasting,” but it was not a guarantee.

“At this time, we will not be providing that, but that does not mean - I want to make it clear - that does not mean that it will not be provided in the future,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters at a regular press briefing.

She repeated the US view that UNRWA needs reform, saying there are a lot more refugees in the program than previously announced, and that “money coming in from other countries needs to increase as well to continue paying for all those refugees.”

“So we’re asking countries to do more,” Nauert said. “Fundamentally, we just don’t believe that we have to be the chief donor to every organization around the world.”

The State Department had said on Tuesday that the US would withhold a separate $65 million it had planned to pay UNRWA, saying the agency needed to make unspecified reforms.

The US announcement to cut aid to Palestinian refugees came after President Donald Trump made a threat two weeks ago to withdraw funding.

In a tweet on January 2, Trump said Washington gives the Palestinians hundreds of millions of dollars a year, “but get no appreciation or respect.”

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

Israel created a wave of Palestinian refugees numbering in the hundreds of thousands after it overran huge swathes of Arab territories in the Middle East to proclaim existence in 1948.

Many Palestinians also fled or were expelled from their homes during and following the Six-Day War in 1967.

More than 5 million refugees are scattered across densely-crowded camps in the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, as well as in neighboring Jordan and Lebanon.

Relations between the US and Palestine have been strained since December when Washington recognized Jerusalem al-Quds as Israel’s capital and vowed to relocate the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to the occupied city.

The entire Jerusalem al-Quds is currently under Israel’s control, while the regime also claims the city’s eastern part, which hosts the third holiest Muslim site.

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