USA won't provide $45m food aid pledged to UNRWA

A Palestinian man walks past a logo of United Nations Relief and Works Agency in Jalazone refugee camp near the West Bank city of Ramallah Jan. 3 2018

Even if Washington provided the additional $65 million, the $125 million total would be well below the $355 million that a USA official said it gave UNRWA in the 2017 fiscal year ended September 30.

Trump had been pushing to restart peace talks, but on January 2 he tweeted that the United States gives the Palestinians "HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS" and gets "no appreciation or respect".

On Tuesday, his administration suspended US$65 million to UNRWA, followed Thursday by putting on hold another US$45 million in food aid destined for the agency.

State Department officials insisted the decision was not taken to pressure Palestinian leaders, but because the USA wants other countries to help pay for and reform UNRWA.

"Funding UNRWA or any humanitarian agency is the discretion of any sovereign member state of the United Nations", he said, in a statement.

"What is new is a decision by the United States to dramatically reduce its contribution and that was not - in the communications to me - associated with reform elements".

"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", she said.

The US is the single largest donor - last year, it gave more than $350m.

"There is a need to undertake a fundamental re-examination of UNRWA, both in the way it operates and the way it is funded", one official said on condition of anonymity.

The Palestinian envoy to Washington, Husam Zomlot, said: "The access to basic humanitarian services is not a bargaining chip but a US and global obligation".

Both Trump and Israel have accused UNRWA as well as the whole United Nations of being biased against Tel Aviv in favor of Palestine.

The agency provides Palestinian refugees and their descendants across West Asia with services including schools and medical care, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long accused it of hostility toward Israel and called for its closure.

On January 16, the United States government announced a contribution of $60 million in support of UNRWA programs, less than half of what is has previously paid at the start of the year.

The PLO added that the cut in aid "is also creating conditions that will generate further instability throughout the region and will demonstrate that it has no compunction in targeting the innocent".

"It is time for this absurdity to end and for humanitarian funds to be directed towards their intended objective: the welfare of refugees", Damon said in a statement, AP reported.

The United States has always been its biggest donor, with large voluntary payments topping up the budget that other UN member states provide for the frontline agency.

"UNRWA is not a Palestinian institution, but a United Nations institution, he protested".

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