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Belgium pledges to $23m of aid to UNRWA after US funding cut

Palestinian men carry food aid given by UNRWA in Gaza City, Gaza on 15 January 2018 [Ali Jadallah/Anadolu Agency]

Belgium has pledged to donate €19 million ($23m) to UN’s aid organisation for Palestinian refugees UNRWA, after the US government slashed its funding to the agency by half, according to the Independent.

Alexander De Croo, Belgium’s Deputy Prime Minister and international aid minister, said UNRWA was “the last lifebuoy” for many Palestinians.

“I have a lot of respect for UNRWA’s work, which has to operate in the most difficult and dangerous circumstances. Living conditions in Gaza, Syria, the West Bank and elsewhere in the region are particularly tough,” he said in a statement yesterday.

“With the help of UNRWA half a million of Palestine children are able to go to school. This prevents them from falling prey to radicalisation and extreme violence.”

De Croo also emphasised that the EU was the biggest donor to the agency, following US President Donald Trump’s tweets regretting the “hundreds of millions of dollars” provided to the Palestinians by the US.

On Wednesday, UNRWA started a global fundraising campaign, calling on the international community to donate to the organisation, as it faces its worst funding crisis ever.

Read: Palestinian families protest US food aid cuts in Gaza

Last week, UNRWA warned that US cuts will hurt half a million children; the UN agency runs 700 schools, where 525,000 boys and girls study, and operates 143 health clinics. Nearly 20,000 teaching jobs are said to be at risk, with UNRWA already having to layoff extra workers.

The EU and Norway will also be convening an emergency meeting at the end of this month for donor groups providing aid to Palestinians, in attempt to control the situation.

The US State Department further announced yesterday that the US would not provide $45 million that it had pledged last month; the money was meant for food aid as part of the West Bank and Gaza Emergency Appeal.

The White House had initially threatened the cuts in a bid to persuade senior Palestinian Authority officials in Ramallah to return to the negotiating table. Following Trump’s announcement to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel the PA withdrew from any US led negotiation saying that Washington had disqualified itself as an honest broker.

However, on Tuesday State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert did not mention Palestinians returning to negotiations as a condition for releasing the frozen funds, calling instead for reforms in the organisation.

Read: UN Palestinian refugee agency ‘must disappear’ says Netanyahu

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