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Palestinians gather outside the UN offices in Gaza to protest US cuts to UNRWA’s funding, on 28 January 2018 [Mohammad Asad / Middle East Monitor]

Almost a dozen countries have agreed to advance their annual contributions to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees to help it plug a major shortfall after a partial cut-off of US funding, its chief said yesterday.

The move by the Trump administration appears linked to a United Nations vote rejecting Washington’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, said Pierre Kraehenbuehl, head of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

The United States said this month it would withhold $65 million of $125 million it had planned to send to UNRWA, which runs schools and clinics for 5.3 million Palestinians across the Middle East, including in the besieged Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank.

“It is very clear that the decision by the United States was not related to our performance,” Kraehenbuehl told a news briefing, citing his “very good meetings” with senior US officials in Washington in November.

“This has to be part of the debate that took place around Jerusalem, the vote on Jerusalem at the [UN] General Assembly.

And I simply note here again that humanitarian funding should be preserved from being tied up with political considerations

he added.

Eleven countries have agreed to advance their donations to finance UNRWA programmes in coming months, Kraehenbuehl said after meeting donor representatives, adding: “There’s a sense of coming together.”

Seven countries – Switzerland, Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Germany and Russia – had already transferred early funds while four – Belgium, Kuwait, the Netherlands and Ireland – had pledged to do so soon, he said.

Read: Leading humanitarian groups urge US to rethink cuts to UNRWA

Kraehenbuehl launched an appeal for some $800 million to provide aid to Palestinian refugees in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and the Palestinian territories this year.

He said UNRWA received $360 million from the United States last year but Washington had cleared only $60 million for 2018 – a drop of $300 million that he called “a very severe and dramatic change”.

According to reports, the US administration has condition the return in aid payments on UNRWA changing school textbooks to remove references to refugee rights and Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine.