U.S. withholds $65 mn from Palestinian aid programs: State Dept

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Today, it provides food, education, and other services for more than 5 million Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip, West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, including some 30,000 schoolteachers who serve more than half a million children.

Belgium is together with other EU member states and the European Commission by far UNRWA's largest donor.

The U.S. pledge was made just days before Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution denouncing President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

"The decision to withhold more than half of a tranche of funding for an agency supporting Palestinian refugees is deplorable".

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said that the administration would like to see some reforms be made in the agency.

The United States, Trump complained on Twitter, pays the Palestinians hundreds of millions of dollars each year and gets "no appreciation or respect.... So we're asking other countries to do more".

The U.S. provides roughly one-third of UNRWA's budget, and the agency has warned that it now faces the "most dramatic financial crisis" in its almost 70-year history. "At stake is the access of refugees to primary healthcare, including prenatal care and other lifesaving services".

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She also said that the U.S. would not continue to reward the Palestinian Authority if it continues to reject United States mediation and refuses to engage in peace negotiations.

But although the agency is trying to lay the blame for the layoffs at America's doorstep, UNRWA had already chose to begin slashing expenses: an already ballooning deficit of $174 million preceded the USA funding cut.

"The current UNRWA definition breeds a victimhood mentality that perpetuates Palestinian-Israeli conflict", notes Gregg Roman, director of the Middle East Forum.

The US move threatens the ability of the United Nations agency to meet its major obligations towards the Palestinian refugees.

"We hope that the USA administration and Congress can cooperate in reversing this politically motivated cut in aid before its effects ripple through the Middle East", NRC Secretary General Jan Egeland said in a statement. No matter the United States bilateral relationship with the Palestinian Authority, UNRWA should not be a bargaining chip.

The Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs said cuts to UNRWA will "hamper the efforts towards a two-state political solution and regional stability", adding that Ankara will increase its contributions to the agency.

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