Arab woman outsides UNRWA headquarters in Gaza
Arab woman outsides UNRWA headquarters in Gaza Reuters

A spokesman for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugee (UNRWA) warned on Wednesday that the U.S. cut to the aid it provides the agency would result in a “severe funding crisis”.

The State Department on Tuesday announced the cut, saying the U.S. had sent $60 million to keep UNRWA in operation but withheld a further $65 million. The official explained the need to re-examine both the way UNRWA operates as well as the way it is funded.

"The U.S. has announced it will contribute $60 million to the program budget. There is for the moment no other indication of possible funding," UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness told AFP on Wednesday.

"This dramatically reduced contribution results in the most severe funding crisis in the history of the agency," he warned.

Gunness further said that "stability in the Middle East is what we are talking about and the potential impact of UNRWA being destabilized is very likely to be widespread, profound, unpredictable and catastrophic."

The Arab League chief had earlier responded to the American cut as well, saying the decision to freeze the funding was aimed at wiping out the whole issue of “Palestinian refugees”.

"This decision affects the education and health of Palestinians and aims to eradicate the question of refugees," Ahmed Aboul Gheit charged.

The American decision to cut the funding for UNRWA followed recent tweets by President Donald Trump in which he questioned the wisdom of providing hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the Palestinian Authority given their refusal to resume peace talks with Israel.

The United States is the largest single donor to UNRWA, providing approximately a fourth of the organization's budget.

On Tuesday, hours after the decision was announced, UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krahenbuhl warned that the move “threatens one of the most successful and innovative human development endeavors in the Middle East.”

“The reduced contribution also impacts regional security at a time when the Middle East faces multiple risks and threats, notably that of further radicalization," he added.

Meanwhile, senior Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) official Hanan Ashrawi blamed Israel for the United States’ decision to cut its funding to UNRWA.

"The U.S. Administration seems to be following (Prime Minister Binyamin) Netanyahu’s instructions to gradually dismantle the one agency that was established by the international community to protect the rights of the Palestinian refugees and provide them with essential services,” she charged.