Palestinians slam US threats to cut off support to UN refugee agency

A Palestinian man walks past a logo of United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in Jalazone refugee camp, near the West Bank city of Ramallah January 3, 2018. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman
Updated 04 January 2018
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Palestinians slam US threats to cut off support to UN refugee agency

AMMAN: Palestinians have reacted angrily to US threats to cut off financial support to the UN refugee agency, which provides humanitarian aid to Palestinian refugees.
Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), said the US administration is not acting as an honest broker. President Donald Trump is threatening to “starve Palestinian children in refugee camps and deny them their natural rights to health and education, if we do not endorse his terms and dictations,” Erekat said.
Another PLO leader, Hanan Ashrawi, said Trump “singlehandedly destroyed the very foundations of peace” by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last month. She says the Palestinians “will not be blackmailed.”
She said: “Trump has sabotaged our search for peace, freedom and justice.”
The US has given the Palestinians more than $5 billion in economic and security aid since the mid-1990s, according to Congressional research figures, with an average of $100 million annually since 2008 for President Mahmoud Abbas’ security services.
Trump threatened to cut off US aid money to the PA, asking why the US should make “any of these massive future payments” when the Palestinians are “no longer willing to talk peace.”
Trump, in a pair of tweets, said “we pay the Palestinians HUNDRED OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect.”
“They don’t even want to negotiate a long overdue ... peace treaty with Israel,” he wrote.

Salim Zanoun, speaker of the Palestine National Council, told Arab News that the council is due to meet in Ramallah on Jan. 14 and that “the Palestinian answer will be issued at that meeting.”
Khaled Abu Arafeh, minister of Jerusalem during the 2006 Ismail Haniyeh government, told Arab News that by his own admission Trump is using Palestinians. “The very same Palestinian leadership that trusted the Americans is now the subject of a policy of blackmail, bribery and bullying, using refugees who are the weakest party to announce his strategic policy totally in support of the occupiers.”
Abu Arafeh, who called the US decision “ever renewable in its stupidity,” said it would have an effect opposite to what Trump intended. “Palestinians will now be reinvigorated to join the stubborn resistance.”
Annes Sweidan, director of the PLO’s external relations, said various PLO factions have met to prepare a reply to Trump’s statement and that some ideas will be formulated in the meeting of the PLO’s executive committee.
Demonstrations and protests have taken place at various locations of UN Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) offices throughout the occupied territories, Sweidan said.
Hamas leaders in Gaza slammed Trump’s threats to cut US aid to UNRWA and the Palestinian Authority. Hamas’ spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said in a statement that Trump’s threats are “cheap political blackmail” that unmasks the barbaric US policy.
A protest was held in Ramallah Wednesday outside the UN offices in which a representative of national and Islamic forces in the Ramallah area thanked the world community for its support at the UN General Assembly meeting.
The statement read out by Issam Abu Baker called on the UN to reject US threats against international agencies. “We reject all forms of US hegemony against international agencies and countries that support Palestinian rights.” The statement termed the US action “bullying” and called on the Americans to stop meddling in the affairs of international agencies.
Sami Mushasha, spokesman of UNRWA, said the agency has not been informed of any change in US funding. He said that UNRWA’s efforts are crucial for human development and its efforts in education, and health and for the dignity of Palestinian refugees and the stability of the region can’t be replaced.
The fact that Israel has not allowed a single refugee to return (while allowing non-refugee Jews to immediately become Israelis) has been a major source of anger and frustration to Palestinians. The PLO was created in refugee camps and has heralded their right of return as one of its most sacred goals.
Over the years, Israel itself has made a very modest contribution to the UN agency and has supported its work with the knowledge that poverty and lack of education will spur more violent resistance. The Israeli Foreign Ministry says on its official website that “Israel recognizes UNRWA’s important contribution to the welfare of the Palestinian refugees and their descendants.”


One year after Daesh defeat, Syria’s Raqqa still in fear

Updated 18 October 2018
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One year after Daesh defeat, Syria’s Raqqa still in fear

  • While the nightmare of militant rule may be gone, most of the city still lies in ruins
  • ‘The war has worn us out. Us and our children. It has destroyed our future’

RAQQA, Syria: A year after a US-backed alliance of Syrian fighters drove the Daesh group from the northern city of Raqqa, traumatized civilians still live in fear of near-daily bombings.
“Every day we wake up to the sound of an explosion,” said resident Khaled Al-Darwish.
“We’re scared to send our children to school ... there’s no security,” he added.
The militants’ brutal rule in Raqqa was brought to an end in October 2017 after a months-long ground offensive by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces supported by air strikes from a US-led coalition.
But despite manning roadblocks at every street corner, the SDF and the city’s newly created Internal Security Forces are struggling to stem infiltration by Daesh sleeper cells.
At Raqqa’s entrance, soldiers verify drivers’ identity papers and carefully sift through lorry cargoes.
Inside the city, there are regular foot patrols and armored vehicles sit at strategic points.
Women wearing the niqab are asked to show their faces to female security members before entering public buildings.
“If there wasn’t fear about a return of Daesh, there wouldn’t be this increased military presence,” said Darwish, a father of two, speaking near the infamous Paradise Square.
It was here that Daesh carried out decapitations and other brutal punishments, earning the intersection a new name — “the roundabout of hell.”
While the nightmare of militant rule may be gone, most of the city still lies in ruins and there are near daily attacks on checkpoints and military vehicles, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Although a series of stinging defeats have cut Daesh’s so-called caliphate down to desert hideouts, the militants still manage to hit beyond the patches of ground they overtly control.
Some Raqqa residents say the city’s new security forces lack the expertise to cope.
“We are exhausted. Every day we don’t know if we will die in a bomb explosion or if we will go home safe and sound,” said Abu Younes, sitting in his supermarket near a roundabout not far from Paradise Square.
“There is no security — (the new security forces) on the roadblocks are not qualified and there is a lot of negligence,” he complained.
“There are faults that enable Daesh to infiltrate the city easily and carry out attacks.”
But despite the continued attacks, a semblance of normal life has returned to the city.
Shops have reopened and traffic has returned to major roads — albeit choked by the impromptu checkpoints.
In a public garden, children climb up a multi-colored slide and onto dilapidated swings as their mothers sit on nearby benches carefully keeping watch.
They are set amidst an apocalyptic backdrop of twisted metal and splayed balconies — the remnants of buildings torn apart by US-led coalition air raids.
Nearby, Ahmed Al-Mohammed pauses as he listens to music on his phone. Like others, he does not hide his disquiet.
“We’re scared because of the presence of Daesh members in the city,” the 28-year-old said.
“The security forces need to tighten their grip.”
Ahmed Khalaf, who commands Raqqa’s Internal Security Forces, defended the work of his men and claimed successes against the militants.
He said patrols are highly organized and that a “joint operation cell” had recently been established with coalition forces to monitor the city’s security.
“Recently we arrested four (militants) — it was a cell that took part in attacks that terrorized the city,” said Khalaf, sporting plain green fatigues.
“We are continuing our investigation to uncover the other cells,” he added.
“Daesh’s goal is to destroy the country and to not let anyone live in safety,” he said.
Security and stability are what Najla Al-Ahmed wants most for her children.
“The nightmare of Daesh follows us everywhere — whenever we try to rest, explosions start up again,” said the 36-year-old, as she shopped with her young ones.
“The war has worn us out. Us and our children. It has destroyed our future,” she said.