Donors pledge $160 million, Palestinian refugees need more

Residents of the besieged Palestinian camp of Yarmouk, lining up to receive food supplies, in Damascus, Syria. (AP)
Residents of the besieged Palestinian camp of Yarmouk, lining up to receive food supplies, in Damascus, Syria. (AP)
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Updated 25 June 2022

Donors pledge $160 million, Palestinian refugees need more

Residents of the besieged Palestinian camp of Yarmouk, lining up to receive food supplies, in Damascus, Syria. (AP)
  • UNRWA was established to provide education, health care, food and other services to the 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were forced from their homes during the war surrounding Israel’s establishment in 1948

UNITED NATIONS: Donors pledged about $160 million for the UN agency helping Palestinian refugees, but it still needs over $100 million to support education for more than half a million children and provide primary health care for close to 2 million people and emergency cash assistance to the poorest refugees, the agency’s chief said Friday.
Briefing reporters on the outcome of Thursday’s donor conference, Philippe Lazzarini said the pledges when turned into cash will enable the UN Relief and Works Agency known as UNRWA to run its operations through September. But “I do not know if we will get the necessary cash to allow us to pay the salaries after the month of September,” he said.
“We are in an early warning mode,” Lazzarini said. “Right now, I’m drawing the attention that we are in a danger zone and we have to avoid a situation where UNRWA is pushed to cross the tipping point, because if we cross the tipping point that means 28,000 teachers, health workers, nurses, doctors, engineers, cannot be paid.”
UNRWA was established to provide education, health care, food and other services to the 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were forced from their homes during the war surrounding Israel’s establishment in 1948.
There are now 5.7 million Palestinian refugees, including their children and grandchildren, who mostly live in camps that have been transformed into built-up but often impoverished residential areas in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza, as well as in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. But UNRWA only helps the more than 500,000 in school and close to 2 million who have health benefits.
Lazzarini said the more than $100 million shortfall in funding for 2022 is about the same as the shortfall that UNRWA has faced every year for almost a decade, but while income has stagnated costs have increased.
In past years, UNRWA has been able to absorb the shortfall through austerity and cost control measures, he said, but today it’s not possible because there is very little left to cut without cutting services.
“Today, we have some classrooms with up to 50 kids,” the UNRWA commissioner-general said. “We have a double shift in our schools. We have doctors who cannot spend more than three minutes in medical consultation. So if we go beyond that, it will force the agency to cut services.”
Lazzarini said UNRWA’s problem is that “we are expected to provide government-like services to one of the most destitute communities in the region, but we are funded like an NGO because we depend completely on voluntary contributions.”
Funding the agency’s services has been put at risk today because of the “de-prioritization, or maybe increased indifference, or because of domestic politics,” he said.
Lazzarini said the solution to UNRWA’s chronic financial problem requires “political will” to match the support for the agency’s work on behalf of Palestinian refugees.
He said UNRWA has a very strong donor base in Europe and last year the Biden administration resumed funding which was cut by the Trump administration, but he said the overall contribution from the Arab world has dropped to less than 3 percent of the agency’s income.
Donors have also faced financial difficulties stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, and now there’s a major effort to help Ukraine in its war with Russia, he said.
“We will know better at the end of the year how much it will impact the agency,” Lazzarini said.
Some donors have already warned UNRWA “that we might not have the traditional top-up at the end of the year, which would be dramatic” for the agency, he said.
Ahead of Thursday’s donors conference, Israel’s UN Ambassador Erdan Calls on countries to freeze contributions until all UNRWA teachers that it claims support terrorism and murdering Jews are fired.
Lazzarini said UNRWA received a letter from Israel’s UN Mission Friday which he hadn’t read, but he said all allegations will be investigated and if there is a breach of UN values and misconduct “we will take measures in line with UN policies.”


Egypt appoints 13 new ministers in Cabinet reshuffle

Egypt appoints 13 new ministers in Cabinet reshuffle
Updated 44 min 52 sec ago

Egypt appoints 13 new ministers in Cabinet reshuffle

Egypt appoints 13 new ministers in Cabinet reshuffle
  • Secretary-General of the House of Representatives Ahmed Manaa invited Parliament’s 596 MPs to attend the meeting without disclosing further information

CAIRO: President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt announced a Cabinet reshuffle Saturday to improve his administration's performance as it faces towering economic challenges stemming largely from Russia’s war in Ukraine.
The Cabinet shake-up, which was approved by parliament in an emergency session, affected 13 portfolios, including health, education, culture, local development and irrigation ministries.
Also included in the reshuffle was the tourism portfolio, a key job at a time when Egypt is struggling to revive the lucrative sector decimated by years of turmoil, the pandemic and most recently the war in Europe.
The changes, however, didn’t affect key ministries including foreign, finance, defense and the interior, which is responsible for the police force.
El-Sisi said the shake-up came in consultation with Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouly. He said in a Facebook post that the changes aimed at “developing the governmental performance in some important files ... which contribute to protecting the state’s interests and capabilities.”
The new ministers are expected to be sworn in before el-Sissi later Saturday or early Sunday.
Egypt’s economy has been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic and the ongoing war in Ukraine, which rattled global markets and hiked oil and food prices across the world.


Vehicle accident in southern Egypt kills 9, injures 18

Vehicle accident in southern Egypt kills 9, injures 18
Updated 13 August 2022

Vehicle accident in southern Egypt kills 9, injures 18

Vehicle accident in southern Egypt kills 9, injures 18

CAIRO: A vehicle accident involving an overturned microbus in southern Egypt killed at least nine people and injured eight, authorities said Saturday.
The crash took place Friday when the passenger vehicle overturned following a tire blowout on a highway in Minya province 273 kilometers (170 miles) south of the capital Cairo, provincial authorities said in a statement.
The microbus, a sort of mass transit minivan, was transporting people from Sohag province to Cairo, the statement said.
Ambulances rushed to the site and moved the injured to hospitals in Minya, the statement added.
Deadly traffic accidents claim thousands of lives every year in Egypt, which has a poor transportation safety record. The crashes and collisions are mostly caused by speeding, bad roads or poor enforcement of traffic laws.
Earlier this month, a microbus collided with a truck in Sohag, killing at least 17 people and injuring four others. In July, a passenger bus slammed into a parked trailer truck in Minya, leaving 23 dead and a least 30 wounded.


UAE FM, Ukrainian counterpart discuss relations

UAE FM, Ukrainian counterpart discuss relations
Updated 13 August 2022

UAE FM, Ukrainian counterpart discuss relations

UAE FM, Ukrainian counterpart discuss relations

DUBAI: The UAE’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan, discussed on Friday with the Ukrainian Foreign Minister, Dmytro Kuleba, bilateral relations between their countries, the prospects for cooperation and ways to enhance them.

Both officials also reviewed the latest developments in the Ukraine, in addition to a number of regional and international issues of common interest, UAE state news agency WAM reported. 

During the phone call, Sheikh Abdullah praised the United Nations-backed agreement recently signed in Istanbul between Ukraine, Russia and Turkey, which provides for the safe export of grain through the Black Sea to global markets.

He reiterated the UAE's commitment to support all efforts to find a peaceful solution to the conflict in Ukraine and reach a political settlement of the crisis.


Adviser to Iran’s nuclear negotiating team ‘won’t shed tears’ over Salman Rushdie attack 

Adviser to Iran’s nuclear negotiating team ‘won’t shed tears’ over Salman Rushdie attack 
Updated 13 August 2022

Adviser to Iran’s nuclear negotiating team ‘won’t shed tears’ over Salman Rushdie attack 

Adviser to Iran’s nuclear negotiating team ‘won’t shed tears’ over Salman Rushdie attack 
  • Mohammad Marandi: ‘I wont be shedding tears for a writer who spouts endless hatred and contempt for Muslims and Islam’

Iran’s advisor to the nuclear negotiating team, Mohammad Marandi, said he will not be “shedding tears” over Salman Rushdie who was fatally stabbed on Friday at a literary event in New York state. 

“I wont be shedding tears for a writer who spouts endless hatred and contempt for Muslims and Islam,” Marandi said in a tweet following the incident. 

Salman Rushdie, who spent years in hiding after an Iranian fatwa ordered his killing, was on a ventilator and could lose an eye following the attack. The British author of “The Satanic Verses,” which sparked fury among some Muslims, had to be airlifted to hospital for emergency surgery following the attack.

Marandi also expressed his surprise at the timing of the attack on Rushdie, which followed Washington’s thwarting of an assassination attempt targeting the former National Security Adviser, John Bolton, calling it “odd.”

The Department of Justice charged an Iranian military operative on Wednesday with plotting to assassinate Bolton.


Tunisian government, unions agree to talks on IMF reform program

Tunisian government, unions agree to talks on IMF reform program
Updated 12 August 2022

Tunisian government, unions agree to talks on IMF reform program

Tunisian government, unions agree to talks on IMF reform program
  • Prime Minister Najla Bouden, UGTT labour union chief Noureddine Taboubi and UTICA commerce union chief Samir Majoul had agreed a "social contract" to tackle national challenges
  • The UGTT reposted the statement on its Facebook page

TUNIS: Tunisia’s government and both its main labor and commerce unions agreed on Friday to start talks on Monday over economic reforms required by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a rescue program.
State news agency TAP reported that Prime Minister Najla Bouden, UGTT labor union chief Noureddine Taboubi and UTICA commerce union chief Samir Majoul had agreed a “social contract” to tackle national challenges, citing a government statement.
The UGTT reposted the statement on its Facebook page.
The labor union, which represents a vast syndicate of workers, has been a staunch critic of IMF economic reforms proposed by the government, including subsidy cuts, a public sector wage freeze and the restructuring of state-owned companies.
It previously said, such reforms would increase the suffering of Tunisians and lead to an imminent social implosion.
Tunisia is seeking $4 billion in IMF support amid the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic and the war in Ukraine, though diplomat sources told Reuters any IMF program approved would be unlikely to reach that level.
The IMF wants the UGTT, a powerful union that has a million members and has previously paralyzed parts of the economy in protest, to formally agree to government reforms.
Efforts to secure the IMF bailout have been complicated by Tunisia’s political upheavals since President Kais Saied seized most powers a year ago, shutting down parliament and moving to rule by decree.
Last month, he pushed through a new constitution formalising many of the expanded powers he has assumed in a referendum. Official figures showed that 31 percent of Tunisians took part, but opposition groups have rejected the figure, calling it inflated.