Belgium pledges to $23m of aid to UNRWA after U.S. funding cut

Aid for millions caught in US-Palestinian row

Amid US Blackmail, Belgium Donates $23M to Palestinian Refugees

Belgium has pledged to donate 19m euro ($23m) to UNRWA, the UN's aid organisation for Palestinian refugees, after the USA government announced it would slash its funding to the agency by half.

"I have a lot of respect for UNRWA's work, which has to operate in the most hard and risky circumstances", De Croo said in his statement.

The State Department had said on Tuesday that Washington would withhold a separate $65 million it had planned to pay the United Nations agency that serves the Palestinians, saying UNRWA needed to make unspecified reforms. She said that while UNRWA reforms were a condition of releasing more money, the aid decision was "not aimed at punishing" anyone.

The US announcement on UNRWA's funding came after US President Donald Trump had threatened on January 2 to cut aid to Palestinians.

Israel accuses the United Nations agency of aiding and abetting Palestinian terrorism and asserts UNRWA's staff betray bias against Israel.

This all follows Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and his threats to cut aid unless Palestinian leaders agree to resume talks.

"With the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?"

The Belgian action came in response to a call from UNRWA's Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl urging donor nations and individuals to fill in the funding gap created by the US cut of half of its aid to the agency.

On Jan. 2, President Trump tweeted that the USA gives the Palestinians "HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect".

Over to Senate as House passes stopgap measure
John McCain, R-Ariz., is unlikely to vote on the measure as he continues to recover from treatment for brain cancer. At least some Democratic votes are needed to pass the budget measure ahead of the Friday midnight deadline.

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

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the other half of the funding is being held due to concerns about how the UNRWA is managed. That amounted to $260m in 2016, with much of the money going towards projects administered by the US Agency for International Development (USAid). "Every penny of US aid should be withheld from the UNRWA, permanently", he said.

"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".

"For the moment there has been no further communication".

Kumar pointed out that UNRWA is an aid agency rather than a party to the peace process.

In 2015 UNRWA schools almost did not open on time because of funding shortages. "It's a good thing that they're moving forward and challenging this body", he said.

"We are delighted to contribute in solidarity if UNRWA takes steps to end the Palestine refugee problem".

"At stake is the dignity and human security of millions of Palestine refugees in need of emergency food assistance and other stake is the access of refugees to primary healthcare including pre-natal care and other life-saving services". The population of Palestinian refugees thus grows each year, even as other refugee populations in the world shrink with each passing generation.

In the coming years, "Belgium, along with the European Union and countries from the region, will continue to support UNRWA and the Palestinian refugees", De Croo's statement said.

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