Schools teaching half a million Palestinian refugees will reopen across the Middle East as planned later this month, the U.N. Palestinian refugee agency said yesterday, despite funding cuts by its biggest donor, the U.S.
The opening of the schools on Aug. 29 had been in doubt after the UNRWA said it lacked funds to pay the 22,000 teachers in its educational network in the Gaza Strip, the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, as well as in Jordan and Syria.
UNRWA said students will return to its 711 schools on time though it still did not have enough money to fund them for a full school year.
There had been warnings from U.N. chief Antonio Guterres and others that the schools might not be able to open due to funding shortages provoked by U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to withhold aid to the Palestinians.
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, as reported by Agence France-Presse (AFP).
Trump said in January he would scale back aid to the Palestinians unless they cooperated with his plans to revive peacemaking with Israel. Those peace efforts stalled in 2014.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 founded in 1949 after the first Arab-Israel war, which led to 700,000 Palestinians being forced to leave their homes or flee. It helps around 5 million Palestinian refugees, a figure that includes descendants of those displaced by the fighting.
In January, Trump tweeted "we pay the Palestinians HUNDRED OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect. They don't even want to negotiate a long overdue peace treaty with Israel."
The U.S. State Department has said the agency needed to make unspecified reforms. Israel has accused UNRWA of favoring Palestinians and welcomed Trump's move.
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