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Gaza schools, clinics face closure due to budget crisis

(AFP) / 16 August 2010

GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories — The UN agency for Palestinian refugees warned on Monday that it is running an 84-million-dollar deficit that could soon force it to shut schools and clinics in the Gaza Strip.

“UNRWA’s working budget is suffering from an 84-million-dollar (66-million-euro) deficit,” Adnan Abu Hasna, a spokesman for the UN Relief and Works Agency, told reporters in Gaza City.

“This will force UNRWA to take steps towards closing institutions, schools and clinics in the Gaza Strip beginning in September,” he added.

He said that Arab states were to blame in part, having only paid for 1.5 percent of UNRWA’s budget when they pledged to pay 7.5 percent, but that Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates had paid their dues.

UNRWA made its latest appeal during a visit to the impoverished and overcrowded territory by Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere, who echoed the call for donors to honour their pledges.

Norway holds the current chair of the UN Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, which coordinates aid to the Palestinians and is to meet on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in September.

“There are obvious needs that need to be met in water, electricity, sewage, health, schools and education,” Gahr Stoere said, appealing for aid for the Western-backed Palestinian Authority.

“It would be a grave mistake of the donor community to let down UNRWA in this situation,” he added. “Donors need to respond to that, especially, also ... donors in this region,” he said in apparent reference to the Arab states.

Gahr Stoere earlier visited the Kerem Shalom border crossing from Israel into southern Gaza and confirmed Israel was allowing in higher quantities of civilian goods since a June decision to ease its blockade of the coastal strip.

UNRWA provides essential food aid, education and health services to about 4.7 million Palestinian refugees, including one million Gazans, two-thirds of the population in the isolated territory ruled by the Islamist movement Hamas.

The refugees, now scattered across the occupied territories and neighbouring Arab states, include the descendants of around 750,000 Palestinians who fled or were driven out of what is now Israel as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

The United States was the largest donor to UNRWA in 2009 with a total contribution of 268 million dollars (210 million euros), followed by the European Commission with 233 million dollars (183 million euros).


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