Jerusalem to remove UN agency for Palestinians from city

TOPSHOT - A Palestinian woman walks in front a mural painted on a wall of the headquarters of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in Gaza City on October 2, 2018, closed in protest against job cuts announced by the UNRWA. Earlier this year, the United States, by far the biggest contributor to the agency, announced it was halting its funding to the organisation, which it labelled "irredeemably flawed". / AFP / SAID KHATIB
Updated 04 October 2018
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Jerusalem to remove UN agency for Palestinians from city

  • Nir Barkat said schools, clinics and sports centers, among other services operated by UNRWA in east Jerusalem, will be transferred to Israeli authorities

JERUSALEM: Jerusalem’s mayor said Thursday he plans to remove a UN agency for Palestinian refugees from the city, accusing the body of operating illegally and promoting incitement against Israel.
Nir Barkat said schools, clinics and sports centers, among other services operated by UNRWA in east Jerusalem, will be transferred to Israeli authorities. The municipality did not provide an exact timeline but it said schools serving 1,800 students would be closed by the end of the current school year.
Barkat, who is set to step down following municipal elections at the end of the month, said the US decision to cut $300 million in aid to the agency earlier this year prompted the move.
“The US decision has created a rare opportunity to replace UNRWA’s services with services of the Jerusalem Municipality. We are putting an end to the lie of the ‘Palestinian refugee problem’ and the attempts at creating a false sovereignty within a sovereignty,” Barkat said in a statement, claiming the schools and clinics were illegal and operate without an Israeli license.
Jerusalem’s municipality said the move was coordinated with the Israeli government.
UNRWA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
UNRWA was established in the wake of the 1948 Mideast war surrounding Israel’s creation. An estimated 700,000 Palestinians fled or were forced from their homes in the fighting.
In the absence of a solution, the UN General Assembly has repeatedly renewed UNRWA’s mandate. The agency now provides education, health care and social services to more than 5 million refugees and their descendants. It serves populations in Gaza and the West Bank, as well as Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
Seen by the Palestinians and most of the international community as providing a valuable safety net, UNRWA is viewed far differently by Israel. It accuses the agency of perpetuating the conflict by helping promote an unrealistic Palestinian demand that refugees have the “right of return” to long-lost homes in what is now Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said UNRWA should be abolished and its responsibilities taken over by the main UN refugee agency.
Some in Israel have even tougher criticism, accusing UNRWA of teaching hatred of Israel in its classrooms and tolerating or assisting Hamas militants in Gaza.
The US meanwhile has demanded the agency carry out reforms before it restores funding.


Erdogan: Istanbul's Hagia Sophia could be turned into mosque

Updated 54 min 29 sec ago
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Erdogan: Istanbul's Hagia Sophia could be turned into mosque

  • Erdogan made the comments during a television interview late on Sunday
  • The suggestion that Hagia Sophia could be turned into a mosque drew ire in Greece

ANKARA: Istanbul's Hagia Sophia — a Byzantine-era cathedral that now serves as a museum — could be reconverted into a mosque, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said.
Erdogan made the comments during a television interview late on Sunday ahead of Turkey's March 31 local elections.
The former Byzantine cathedral had previously been converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of the city, then-known as Constantinople, in 1453. Turkey's secular founder turned the structure into a museum in 1935 that attracts millions of tourists each year.
There have however, been increasing calls for the government to convert the symbolic structure back into a mosque, especially following reports that the gunman who killed Muslim worshippers in New Zealand left a manifesto saying the Hagia Sophia would be "free of minarets."
Erdogan himself recited prayers inside the Hagia Sophia last year.
The suggestion that Hagia Sophia could be turned into a mosque drew ire in Greece.
"It is not only a great temple of Christendom — the largest for many centuries — it also belongs to humanity. It has been recognized by UNESCO as part of our global cultural heritage," Greek Foreign Minister George Katrougalos said. "So any questioning of this status is not just an insult to the sentiments of Christians, it is an insult to the international community and international law."
"We want to hope that the correct statements of March 16 by the Turkish leadership will be valid and there will be no change of this status," he added, in reference to a speech by Erdogan when he ruled out its conversation into a mosque.