Former UN envoys urge US to restore Palestinian refugee funds

An Israeli soldier aims his gun as Israeli forces confront Palestinian protesters following a weekly demonstration against the expropriation of Palestinian land by Israel in the village of Kfar Qaddum, near Nablus in the occupied West Bank, in this June 29, 2018 photo. (AFP)
Updated 03 July 2018
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Former UN envoys urge US to restore Palestinian refugee funds

  • The agency was created after the war that followed the creation of Israel in 1948, with about 700,000 Palestinians living there either fleeing or being forced from their homes
  • The US has historically been the top donor to the agency, and last year provided $364 million

WASHINGTON: Seven former American ambassadors to the UN called on the Trump administration on Monday to restore funding to the UN agency that helps Palestinian refugees across the Middle East.
In a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the ex-envoys from both Republican and Democratic administrations said withholding funds from the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) will have national-security implications for US partners in the region, including Israel and Jordan.
The agency is facing a major budget shortfall due in part to the suspension of US assistance. The UN says UNRWA needs $250 million without which it will be forced to severely curtail programs to provide basic services — from food assistance and medical care to sanitation — for 5 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
“This financial gap puts into question the ability of UNRWA to continue to deliver education and health care services to millions of people, and has national security ramifications for our closest allies, including Israel and Jordan,” the former ambassadors said in the letter, which was also sent to the current US envoy to the United Nations, Nikki Haley.
“We urge you to restore US funding to help fill this gap,” said the envoys, who include Thomas Pickering and Edward Perkins, who served under President George H.W. Bush; Madeleine Albright and Bill Richardson, who served under President Bill Clinton; John Negroponte, who served under President George W. Bush; and Susan Rice and Samantha Power, who served under President Barack Obama.
The US has historically been the top donor to the agency, and last year provided $364 million. But this year, the Trump administration announced that it was withholding more than half its initial installment of $125 million. The rest of that, along with additional payments, are on hold until the agency implements structural reforms.
UNRWA Director Pierre Krahenbuhl said at an emergency donors’ conference last week that the US cuts along with other shortfalls are endangering food assistance in Gaza and medical clinics spread among the five areas, while about 500,000 children may not be able to start the school year.
The agency was created after the war that followed the creation of Israel in 1948, with about 700,000 Palestinians living there either fleeing or being forced from their homes. The UNRWA now faces its worst crisis in nearly seven decades, according to Krahenbuhl.


Palestine, Egypt offer air support as Israel battles wildfires

A firefighting aircraft flies over a forest near Kibbutz Harel, which was damaged by wildfires during a record heatwave, in Israel May 24, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 25 May 2019
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Palestine, Egypt offer air support as Israel battles wildfires

  • Thousands of people were evacuated from their homes on Thursday as fires raged
  • The fires were fueled by high temperatures and dry condition

JERUSALEM: Egypt and four European countries sent aircraft to help Israel battle wildfires that have forced the evacuation of some small towns, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Friday, as a record heatwave looked set to worsen conditions.
At an emergency briefing, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel had appealed for international help to combat the fires, and that firefighting planes were coming in from Greece, Croatia, Italy and Cyprus.
Egypt, on the orders of President Abdel-Fatah El-Sisi, had also sent two helicopters to assist Israel, Netanyahu told reporters.
The Palestinian Authority and Russia had also offered help, Netanyahu said.
Israel braced for wildfires on Friday amid a major heat wave that shows no signs of abating.
Israel “really appreciates” the help, Netanyahu said, singling out El-Sisi for sending aid.
“I am deeply thankful for the readiness of neighbors to help us in a time of crisis, just as we help them,” Netanyahu said.
Israel’s Fire and Rescue Service said blazes in a key corridor between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv were mostly under control but difficult weather remained a conflagration risk.
“As of this moment, this (containment) is being done in the best possible way, but the challenge is yet ahead of us given the weather conditions, the winds and the extreme heat,” Netanyahu said.
Some 3,500 residents of small towns in the path of the fires were evacuated on Thursday, officials said. Dozens of homes have burned down.

Evacuations
Thousands of people were evacuated from towns and dozens of homes were burned on Thursday as fires raged, fueled by high temperatures and dry conditions. Over 500 acres of woodland have burned, said Nitai Zecharya, an Israeli official from the Jewish National Fund, known for planting forests in the country.
Zecharya said that while firefighters had brought most of the blaze under control, officials remained “very stressed” about strong winds fanning flames and “spreading fires to other fronts.”
The cause of the fires remains unclear, but they erupted following the Jewish festival of Lag Ba’Omer, which observers mark with bonfires.
A sweltering heat wave is pushing temperatures in parts of the country up to 110 degrees Fahrenheit, or 43 Celsius.