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US funding freeze will lead to cuts in Palestinian refugee projects: UN

Sources within UNWRA claim most of the programme cuts are expected in the West Bank
Sources told AFP that scores of Palestinian projects will face reductions in coming months if additional funding not found (MEE)

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees has warned that cuts to key programmes in the Gaza Strip and occupied West Bank are planned over the coming weeks if a US funding freeze cannot be overcome.

Figures were not yet available on the cuts being planned if the significant gap in financing is not resolved, but a letter sent to agency staff at the weekend and seen by AFP on Monday highlights areas targeted.

A source familiar with the plans described the areas expected to be affected in further detail, saying they included employment programmes, housing assistance and mental health support, among others.

Most of the cuts are expected in the West Bank. Some programmes were due to run out of funds by the end of July, according to the source.

The letter said the agency, known as UNRWA, would work to maintain vital food assistance programmes, particularly for the impoverished Gaza Strip.

But the source said those too could face reductions in the coming months if additional financing was not found.

UNRWA head Pierre Krahenbuhl said in the letter to staff that he had called on donors that had already helped out with pledges to assist further so the agency could "overcome the rest of the shortfall," currently at $217m.

"I said to them, and I say to you now with great honesty: A shortfall of $217 million is still far higher than any UNRWA has ever faced in its history," the letter said.

"As the agency’s commissioner-general, I cannot hide the dramatic risks that we face to our services if we do not receive additional funding very rapidly."

The agency would decide in the first half of August whether it would open the schools it operates on time following the summer break, Krahenbuhl said in the letter.

More than 500,000 children study at UNRWA schools with 54 percent of the agency's budget going to education.

UNRWA was established after the war surrounding Israel's creation in 1948 when more than 700,000 Palestinians were forcefully expelled or fled in what Palestinians call the Nakba (catastrophe).

It offers support for these refugees and their descendants in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and the West Bank and Gaza, providing services for more than three million people.

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