UN Palestinian agency faces 'existential crisis'

Palestinian children hold bread patties during a protest against aid cuts, outside the United Nations’ offices in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip in this file photo.(AFP)
Updated 09 February 2018
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UN Palestinian agency faces 'existential crisis'

UNITED NATIONS:One month after the Trump administration announced a drastic funding cut to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, only one country, Kuwait, has stepped forward to offer additional funding, senior UNRWA officials said Friday.
The United States announced in January that it would give $60 million to UNRWA - a fraction of the more than $350 million annual contribution that it has provided to the agency's budget.
Kuwait stepped in to contribute $900,000 and about 15 donor countries including Sweden and Japan decided to speed up their donations to keep UNRWA afloat, said Peter Mulrean, UNRWA's representative in New York.
But Mulrean told reporters at UN headquarters that the agency was facing an "existential financial crisis" as it seeks to fill the gap from the US funding cut.
The United States is the biggest single donor to UNRWA which provides schools and health clinics to 5.3 million refugees in the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
US Ambassador Nikki Haley last month said the United States would not provide aid to the Palestinians until they agree "to come back to the negotiation table" and reach a peace deal with Israel.
"The US has not yet explained to us the rationale behind its decision on the $60 million," Mulrean said, adding that Washington had not presented any concerns about reforms.
In an interview to Voice of America, Haley said UNRWA needed to be reformed, because they consider "any Palestinian as a refugee" and "what they're teaching in schools is not necessarily the right way to have things run."
UNRWA has been repeatedly accused of promoting anti-Israel sentiment in schools, a charge it has flatly rejected.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will attend a ministerial-level donors' conference for UNRWA to be held next month in Geneva to fill the gap in funding, but it remains unclear if the United States will attend.
UNRWA's director for the West Bank, Scott Andersen, said all of the agency's services remain up and running for the time being, but that the decision had left many Palestinians anxious.
"People are frightened and concerned about what this means for them, their families and their future," he said.


Pentagon plans to send 5,000 more troops to Middle East amid Iran threat: US officials

Updated 23 May 2019
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Pentagon plans to send 5,000 more troops to Middle East amid Iran threat: US officials

  • Tehran and Washington have this month been escalating rhetoric against each other
  • The US military deployed a carrier strike group, bombers and Patriot missiles to the Middle East earlier this month

WASHINGTON: The US Department of Defense is considering a US military request to send about 5,000 additional troops to the Middle East amid increasing tensions with Iran, two US officials told Reuters on Wednesday.
Tehran and Washington have this month been escalating rhetoric against each other, following US President Donald Trump’s decision to try to cut Iran’s oil exports to zero and beef up the US military presence in the Gulf in response to what he said were Iranian threats.
The officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the request had been made by US Central Command, but added that it was not clear whether the Pentagon would approve the request.
The Pentagon regularly receives — and declines — requests for additional resources from US combatant commands throughout the world.
One of the officials said the requested troops would be defensive in nature.
This appeared to be the latest request for additional resources in the face of what US officials have said are credible threats from Iran against US forces and American interests in the Middle East.
The Pentagon declined to comment on future plans.
“As a matter of longstanding policy, we are not going to discuss or speculate on potential future plans and requests for forces,” Commander Rebecca Rebarich, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said on Wednesday.
Acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said on Tuesday that while threats from Iran in the Middle East remained high, deterrence measures taken by the Pentagon had “put on hold” the potential for attacks on Americans.
The US military deployed a carrier strike group, bombers and Patriot missiles to the Middle East earlier this month in response to what Washington said were troubling indications of possible preparations for an attack by Iran.
Trump had warned on Monday that Iran would be met with “great force” if it attacked US interests in the Middle East.