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.”


Air strikes kill seven civilians in southern Syria: monitor

Updated 53 min 9 sec ago
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Air strikes kill seven civilians in southern Syria: monitor

  • It was not immediately clear whether the strikes were carried out by the regime or its Russian ally
  • More than 350,000 people have been killed and millions displaced by Syria’s war since it started in 2011

BEIRUT: Air strikes on Tuesday killed seven civilians in a sensitive southwestern province of Syria bordering the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, a war monitor said.
The Damascus regime has been pounding Quneitra since Sunday in a bid to retake the southwestern province from rebels, after winning back most of the neighboring governorate of Daraa in less than a month.
“Six civilians including two women and three children were killed in air strikes near Ain Al-Tina” on Quneitra’s border with Daraa province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
It was not immediately clear whether the strikes were carried out by the regime or its Russian ally, the Britain-based monitor said.
The monitor determines who carried out strikes based on the type of aircraft and munitions used, locations and flight patterns.
In the west of the adjacent province of Daraa, Russian air raids killed one civilian near the village of Al-Aliya, it said.
“Since Tuesday morning, heavy Russian air strikes and barrel bombs dropped by the regime have been targeting an area straddling Quneitra and Daraa,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.
Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, a group led by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate, is present in that area, he said.
HTS extremists are not included in a cease-fire between regime and rebels in Daraa announced earlier this month, which has allowed the regime to retake control of more than 90 percent of the province.
President Bashar Assad’s regime has advanced in Daraa thanks to a deadly bombardment campaign since June 19, along with Russia-brokered deals between opposition fighters and the regime.
In Quneitra on Monday, rebels in at least five towns raised the national flag, seeking a similar agreement with the regime, Abdel Rahman said.
“Rebel factions in these towns have stopped fighting to avoid bombardment and destruction,” he said.
In two days since Sunday, at least 43 regime fighters have been killed in both Daraa and Quneitra, while 48 extremists and rebels have lost their lives, the Observatory said.
More than 350,000 people have been killed and millions displaced by Syria’s war since it started in 2011 with a brutal crackdown on anti-government protests.