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Israel welcomes US aid cuts to Palestinian refugee agency

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Palestinian schoolgirls do morning exercises at an Unrwa-run school on Thursday, the first day of a new school year, in Gaza City REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

Israel on Saturday welcomed the US announcement that it is halting all funding for the United Nations' agency for Palestinian refugees. President Donald Trump's administration declared the organisation "irredeemably flawed". Germany has stepped in to make up some of the shortfall and has appealed to other EU countries to follow its example.


"Israel supports the US move," an official in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office told the AFP news agency on condition of anonymity.

"Consolidating the refugee status of Palestinians is one of the problems that perpetuates the conflict."

Washington has long been the UN Relief and Works Agency's (Unrwa) largest donor providing 368m dollars (318m euros) in 2016 and funding almost 30 percent of its operations in the region.

But the US is "no longer willing to shoulder the very disproportionate share of the burden"s State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.

She added that the US would "like to see some revisions made in how Unrwa operates", to ensure that the money was "best spent" so that people got the services they needed.

The agency supports some five million registered Palestinian refugees and provides schooling for 526,000 children in the Palestinian territories as well as in camps in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.

Trump's administration pledged 60m dollars (52m euros) to Unrwa in January but withheld another 65m dollars (56m euros) pending a review. That remaining payment of is now expected to be cancelled.

The United States also announced last week that it was canceling more than 200m dollars (172m euros) in bilateral aid to Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.

A spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas later said the move was an "assault" on his people.

"Such a punishment will not succeed to change the fact that the United States no longer has a role in the region and that it is not a part of the solution," Nabil Abu Rudeina told Reuters news agency.

Unrwa "expresses deep regret and disappointment at the US' announcement that it will no longer provide funding to the Agency after decades of staunch political and financial support," spokesman Chris Gunness wrote on Twitter.

Shortly after the decision Germany said it would provide additional funding for Unrwa and appealed to other EU members to do the same.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the funding crisis was fueling uncertainty.

Germany had already provided 81 million euros in aid for Unrwa this year.

At a press conference in Jordan earlier this week, the agency's director, Pierre Krähenbühl, said that tit needs 200 million dollars (172m euros) to continue its work until the end of this year.