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U.S. withholds $65 million from Palestinian refugees

By Daniel Uria
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U.S. withholds $65 million from Palestinian refugees
The U.S. State Department will withhold $65 million of funding for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, responsible for helping Palestinian refugees, spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Tuesday. Photo by Ismael Mohamad/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 16 (UPI) -- The U.S. State Department confirmed Tuesday it will withhold more than half of its funding to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, which provides aid to Palestinian refugees.

The United States will withhold $65 million of its previously planned $125 million tranche of funding to the UNRWA, while continuing to send $60 million to avoid a "negative impact."

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"It's money that's being frozen at this time," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said of the $65 million. "It's not being canceled. It's just being held for future considerations."

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley previously said the United States would freeze UNRWA funding unless Palestinians returned to negotiations with Israel after President Donald Trump moved to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

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Nauert said the decision to withhold funding to UNRWA was due to concerns about how it is managed and additional funding will be dependent on changes being made at the agency.

"I can tell you that it has long been a concern of this administration -- a year into the administration --about UNRWA and how it handles itself and manages its money," she said.

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The United States contributes $364 million annually in two installments to the agency, which provides healthcare and social services to Palestinians in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and neighboring countries.

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Prior to the announcement that the funds had been withheld, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned cutting UNRWA funding could impact create a "serious problem" for Palestinian refugees.

"It is an important factor of stability, so if UNRWA will not be in a position to provide the vital services and the emergency forms of support that UNRWA has been providing, these will create a very, very serious problem, and we will do everything we can to avoid the situation to occur," Guterres said.

Following the cuts, the United States is asking other countries to contribute more to the agency, according to Nauert.

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"We don't believe that taking care of other nations and other people has to solely be the United States' responsibility," she said.

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