UN Palestinian schools to open on time despite US funding freeze

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees said all 711 schools it runs for 526,000 pupils in the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria would open for the coming school year. (AFP)
Updated 16 August 2018
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UN Palestinian schools to open on time despite US funding freeze

  • There had been warnings from UN chief Antonio Guterres and others that the schools might not be able to open due to funding shortages
  • Last month, UNRWA announced it was cutting more than 250 jobs in the Palestinian territories due to the funding crisis

JERUSALEM: Hundreds of UN-run schools for Palestinian refugees will open on time after fresh funding temporarily staved off a financial crisis triggered by a US contributions freeze, the United Nations said on Thursday.
The UN agency for Palestinian refugees said all 711 schools it runs for 526,000 pupils in the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria would open for the coming school year.
There had been warnings from UN chief Antonio Guterres and others that the schools might not be able to open due to funding shortages provoked by US President Donald Trump’s decision to withhold aid to the Palestinians.
The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) said it had mobilized an additional $238 million since the start of the year, but added that it currently only had enough cash to keep its services operating through September.
“We need a further $217 million to ensure that our schools not only open but can be run until the end of the year,” the agency said in a statement.
The schools are due to open over a staggered time period between August 29 and September 2.
UNRWA has faced a $300 million freeze in funding from the United States as Trump demands changes to the agency and seeks to pressure the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table.
Other countries have since provided additional contributions but UNRWA says it is not enough.
The agency provides services to more than three million Palestinian refugees and their descendants across the Middle East and employs more than 20,000 people, the vast majority Palestinians.
Last month, UNRWA announced it was cutting more than 250 jobs in the Palestinian territories due to the funding crisis.
UNRWA was set up after the 1948 war that accompanied the creation of Israel, during which more than 700,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homes.
Israel argues the agency is biased against it and perpetuates the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
UN officials and others say that the agency provides vital services to the vulnerable communities under its mandate.


Syria’s Kurds criticise Damascus ‘threats’

Syrian Defense Minister Ali Ayoub, above, said the government is determined to return the Kurdish-led areas. (AFP)
Updated 19 March 2019
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Syria’s Kurds criticise Damascus ‘threats’

  • Syrian defence minister made the remarks during a press conference on Monday
  • SDF said the remarks expose the government’s divisive plans

OMAR OIL FIELD, Syria: Syria’s Kurds have criticized the “threatening language” of the Damascus regime after it pledged to retake northeastern areas they control by reconciliation or by force.

The minority have largely stayed out of Syria’s war, instead carving out a de-facto autonomous region across a large swathe of northern and northeastern Syria.

That region is held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces who have been battling the Daesh group with backing from a US-led coalition.

Syrian Defense Minister Ali Abdullah Ayoub on Monday said his government would recapture all areas held by the SDF “in one of two ways: a reconciliation agreement or... by force.”

In a statement late Monday, the semi-autonomous administration slammed his comments.

“The Syrian defense minister’s statement regarding the SDF... reflects the continuation of the racist and sterile policy that has led Syria to this disastrous situation,” it said in a statement.

“The use of threatening language against the SDF who have liberated and protected the north and east of Syria from terrorists only serves those forces working to divide Syria,” it said.

US President Donald Trump’s announcement in December of a pullout of all US forces from Syria shocked the Kurds and sent them grappling to mend fences with Damascus.

Dialogue between both sides has been ongoing, but has failed to bear fruit.

Damascus rejects Kurdish self-rule and wants a return of government institutions to oil-rich SDF-held areas.

The Kurds want protection from a long-threatened Turkish offensive, but seek some form of decentralization from Damascus.

“The autonomous administration... stands by its position of the need for a solution and dialogue within the Syrian framework for all pending issues,” the Kurdish authorities said.

“But we want all sides to know that we, while choosing the political solution, we will spare no effort in the legitimate defense of our rights if necessary,” he said.

Eight years into a war that has killed more than 370,000 people, the Damascus regime controls almost two-thirds of the country after a series of victories against rebels and jihadists.

But the SDF-held region, a northwestern jihadist bastion and border areas held by Turkey’s Syrian proxies remain beyond its control.