Saudi Arabia pledges $50 mn to UN Palestinian refugee agency

More than five million registered Palestinian refugees are eligible to receive support from UNRWA, which was set up after Israel's creation in 1948.

Saudi Arabia pledges $50 mn to UN Palestinian refugee agency
Palestinian youth draw during a summer camp at a United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) school on July 23, 2016 in Gaza City Mahmud Hams (AFP)

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia pledged $50 million in aid on Wednesday to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), which has been hit by the withdrawal of all US funding.

The announcement was made at a news conference in the Saudi capital by the director of the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre, Abdullah al-Rabeea.

UNRWA commissioner general Pierre Krahenbuhl told the news conference that the agency had succeeded in containing spending following the decision by the administration of President Donald Trump in August to end all funding.

The United States had been by far the biggest contributor to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees and the move dealt a massive blow to its already stretched finances.

It threatened the closure of UNRWA schools both in the Palestinian territories and in the diaspora just weeks into the new academic year, as well as clinic closures and major job cuts.

Krahenbuhl said in Jordan last week that new funding pledges from Europe and other Gulf Arab states had allowed the agency to dramatically reduce the resulting budget shortfall, to just $21 million from $446 million at the start of the year.

More than five million registered Palestinian refugees are eligible to receive support from UNRWA, which was set up after Israel’s creation in 1948.

The Trump administration has backed Israel in accusing the agency of perpetuating the Middle East conflict by maintaining the idea that millions of Palestinians are refugees with a right to return to homes in what is now Israel.

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Aside from ending all US funding of UNRWA, the Trump administration has also cut $200 million in bilateral aid to the Palestinians for projects in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

In his address to the General Assembly in September, Trump said the United States would only give foreign aid “to those who respect us and frankly are our friends”.

The Palestinians severed all ties with the administration after Trump’s decision last December to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and declare the disputed city Israel’s capital in a break with a decades-old bipartisan policy.