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article imageUN's Guterres seeks funding for agency helping Palestinians

By AFP     Jun 25, 2019 in World

Secretary General Antonio Guterres called on UN member states Tuesday to fund the agency that works to help Palestinian refugees as he opened a donors conference for the body, which is boycotted by the US.

The conference was being held the same day the administration of President Donald Trump was presenting in Bahrain the economic part of a long awaited Middle East peace plan, at an event boycotted by the Palestinian Authority.

The US plan dangles the prospect of $50 billion of investment in the Palestinian territories and neighboring Arab countries over 10 years.

More than a year ago the Trump administration stopped sending money to the UN agency for the Palestinians, called UNRWA and called for it to be dissolved, saying it was no longer justified 70 years after the start of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the creation of Israel.

"Today, I humbly ask all donors to maintain their support for UNRWA at last year's level," said Guterres.

"We know what is at risk: education for a half million children; 8 million health care visits a year; emergency relief for 1.5 million. In Gaza alone, one million Palestine refugees depend on UNRWA for food," he said.

Last year, UNRWA relied on extra money from member states and internal savings to cover a $446 million budgetary hole. This year it unveiled a budget of $1.2 billion, unchanged from 2018.

Unless enough money is pledged on Tuesday, the agency could fall back into the red by the end of the month, Guterres warned. And that could mean delaying school openings in late August or September, the agency says.

Founded in 1949, UNRWA runs schools and provides health care for some five million Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip.

Israel and the United States do not like the fact that Palestinian refugees can pass on refugee status to their children and want to reduce the number of people receiving aid from UNRWA. The Palestinians say this violates their rights.

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