US boosts aid to Palestinians, UNRWA

UNRWA, the Red Cross and OCHA to distribute money, despite hopes that it would be routed through Abbas.

UNRWA in gaza 248 88 (photo credit: AP [file])
UNRWA in gaza 248 88
(photo credit: AP [file])
The US State Department announced Friday that it is contributing an additional $20 million to humanitarian relief efforts in Gaza. Some $13.5m. of the funds, which comes on top of $85m. in relief the US had already committed for 2009, will go primarily to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees. Another $6m. will go to the International Committee of the Red Cross and $800,000 will be given to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). The US has suggested that Gaza reconstruction funds will be routed through the Palestinian Authority as President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah party tries to strengthen its position versus Hamas. But US State Department acting spokesman Robert Woods acknowledged that this money was being distributed through the independent agencies of UNRWA, the Red Cross and OCHA because "they're the primary conduits of assistance to the Palestinians" in Gaza now. He added, "At some point, with regard to the Palestinian Authority, we hope to be able to do that." The move comes after more than 60 members of Congress wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week to convey their "deep concern for the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip and to request immediate action by the United States to address this crisis." "Failure to address this humanitarian emergency has the potential to produce a crisis of even more unspeakable proportions. We therefore respectfully request that the State Department release emergency funds to UNRWA for reconstruction and humanitarian assistance," the letter said. The congressmen suggested the money be taken from the US Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance. The State Department did so, though it didn't reference the letter in its announcement that it was releasing the funds. At the same time, Congressman Steve Rothman (D-New Jersey) sponsored a resolution urging greater transparency in UNRWA to make sure that no money from the agency is ending up in the hands of terrorists. His resolution follows reports that UNRWA employs Palestinians affiliated with extremist groups, a charge long leveled by Israel. "While UNRWA remains the primary delivery mechanism for humanitarian aid to the Palestinian territories, there is absolutely no reason why the United Nations cannot take aggressive action to ensure that not one penny of US dollars is being redistributed to terrorists," said Rothman, who pointed out that the America is the single largest contributor to UNRWA. "Unfortunately, at this time we have no such guarantee with UNRWA, given the lax oversight and faulty accountability mechanisms that are currently in place."