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Palestinian refugees to start school year on time

UN chief 'greatly relieved' that 500,000 students across Middle East will return to school
File photo shows Palestinian refugees in Iraq

Palestinian students will return to school on time, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees said on Wednesday, after funding worries led to fears schools would be forced to delay the new term.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he was "greatly relieved" by the development, calling it an achievement that "cannot be underestimated at a time of rising extremism in one of the world’s most unstable regions".

In a statement, his spokesman said: “[Ban] stresses that education is a right and that rights delayed are rights denied. Thanks to the generosity of UN member states and tireless fund-raising efforts, that right can now be realized."

Leading contributors were Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and United States, he said, while other major donations came from Switzerland, Britain, Norway, Sweden and Slovakia.

Earlier this month, the UN appealed for urgent donations to meet a $101mn shortfall in funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) to pay for classes in around 700 schools across the Middle East that cater to 500,000 children.

The agency, which provides assistance to five million Palestinian refugees, had earlier declared it was facing its "most severe financial crisis ever".

"I am pleased to declare the 2015/16 UNRWA school year open. Students will return to school according to plan in Palestine on 24 August, in Jordan on 1 September, in Lebanon on 7 September and in Syria on 13 September," said UNRWA's Pierre Krahenbuhl.

Meanwhile, the US announced on Wednesday that it would provide an additional $15 million to the agency, taking its contribution to nearly $350 million.

“Ensuring refugee children are able to go to school is something that benefits not just these children themselves, it benefits all of us,” State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters.

Earlier this year, a lack of donor funding forced the agency to suspend payments for the repair and rebuilding of homes damaged during Israel's military onslaught in Gaza last summer.

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