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US ends funding for Palestinian refugees



WASHINGTON — The United States is ending its decades of funding for the UN agency that helps Palestinian refugees, the State Department announced Friday, a week after slashing bilateral US aid for projects in the West Bank and Gaza.

The US supplies nearly 30 percent of the total budget of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and had been demanding reforms in the way it is run. The department said in a written statement that the United States “will no longer commit further funding to this irredeemably flawed operation.” The decision cuts nearly $300 million of planned support.

UNRWA released a statement late Friday rejecting “in the strongest possible terms” the Trump administration’s criticism of the agency and expressing “deep regret and disappointment.”

The US decision comes as President Donald Trump and his Middle East pointmen, Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, prepare for the rollout of a much-vaunted but as yet unclear peace plan for Israel and the Palestinians, and it could intensify Palestinian suspicions that Washington is using the humanitarian funding as leverage.

Meanwhile, around 180 Palestinians were injured on Friday during clashes with Israeli soldiers on the borders between the eastern Gaza Strip and Israel, the health ministry said.

Among the 59 admitted to hospitals, a 20-year-old female paramedic and a 10-year-old boy were in critical condition, Ashraf al-Qedra, the Gaza health ministry spokesman, told reporters.

Hundreds of young Palestinians gathered in eastern Gaza close to the borders with Israel, calling for the end of an Israeli blockade imposed on the coastal enclave since 2007, eyewitnesses said.

They also released dozens of arson balloons from eastern Gaza into Israel, while cutting and pulling the barbed wires of the border security fence, according to eyewitnesses and local media.

AP and Xinhua