U.S. President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. January 30, 2018.
(photo credit: JONATHAN ERNST / REUTERS)
Almost two-thirds of Democratic members of Congress, 112 representatives of the House of Representatives and 34 senators, sent a letter in appeal to US President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to reverse the decision to “end vital United States contributions to the United National Relief [and] Works Agency (UNRWA).”
Addressed to Pompeo, the letter expressed concern regarding the administration’s decisions to pressure Palestinian leadership back to the negotiating table at the expense of furthering the current humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
“The administration’s decision will exacerbate the already dire humanitarian crisis in Gaza, where one million people – half the population – depend on UNRWA for food assistance,” the letter said.
UNRWA also runs 278 schools in Gaza, which are attended by some 300,000 students.
In August, the Trump administration cut all funding to UNRWA
, claiming the organization’s “fundamental business model and fiscal practices” that have served a growing community “is simply unsustainable and has been a crisis mode.” In January, Trump’s administration had already suspended more than half of its annual funding – $65 million out of $125 million.
On Monday, UNRWA withdrew some of its foreign staff
from Gaza for safety reasons. UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness said that workers had been “harassed and prevented from carrying out their duties” by people angered by the organization’s cost-cutting measures.
The letter also addressed Hamas’s role in perpetuating chaos in the Gaza Strip, by acting “in complete disregard for the safety and freedom of the people of Gaza.” The measure, however, will only “aggravate tensions in the region and further erode prospects for a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.”
J Street, a Washington-based advocacy group, released the letter in a press release, in which it claimed that “this administration’s reckless actions can and must eventually be reversed – and replaced with policies that promote Israelis’ and Palestinians’ shared aspirations for a secure and peaceful future.”
Michael Wilner contributed to this report
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