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Government funding deal includes ban on US aid to UNRWA, a key humanitarian agency in Gaza, until 2025, sources say

Agreement on massive appropriations bill concluded between Congress and the White House will include a ban on all direct U.S. funding for the main humanitarian agency operating in Gaza, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, until March 2025, three sources familiar with the matter confirmed to CBS News. negotiations.

The White House did not mention the aid cut when expressing broad support Tuesday for the tentative deal reached with Congress, which President Biden pledged to sign immediately if passed. .

UNRWA, which provides education, health and social services in the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria to around six million Palestinian refugees, says a cut in aid would create “a huge deficit” in the financing of the agency.

“This will undermine efforts to help starving Gazans and could potentially further weaken regional stability,” the agency said in a statement Wednesday.

Supporters of continued aid have argued that the cut is unacceptable at a time when famine in Gaza is imminent. In January, the Biden administration said it would temporarily suspend new funding to UNRWA pending a U.N. investigation into Israel’s claims that 12 agency employees participated in the deadly Oct. 7 terrorist attack in Israel that killed at least 1,200 people. The agency claims to employ more than 30,000 people. Following Israel’s public disclosure, the UN fired ten of these employees, announced the deaths of two others and opened an investigation.

Before the pause in U.S. funding, the State Department had already provided $121 million to UNRWA this year, spokesman Matthew Miller said. said in January. Historically, the amount for the entire year has been between $300 million and $400 million per year. In 2018, then-President Donald Trump cut off all US funding to UNRWAcalling it “irreparably flawed”, but Mr Biden restored his support in 2021.

US intelligence considered the Israeli allegations credible, but did not conduct an independent analysis, relying instead on an assessment of intelligence provided by Israel. The Biden administration’s current pause has no end date pending the results of the UN’s review and re-evaluation of all UNRWA employees. Now this congressional agreement on the so-called “minibus” will impose a legal ban on funding, thereby tying the administration’s hands.

The United States has historically been the largest donor to UNRWA, which is the agency with the largest infrastructure for aid distribution in the 40-kilometer-long Gaza Strip. On Sunday, Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland warned against “Face the Nation” that a cut would have disastrous consequences.

“If you completely remove funding from UNRWA and Gaza, it means more people will starve and not receive the medical assistance they need. So it would be a big mistake to cut them,” said Van Hollen. He went further and argued that dismantling UNRWA was a long-standing political goal of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing government.

“Netanyahu wanted to get rid of UNRWA because he saw it as a way to perpetuate the Palestinian people’s hopes of having their own homeland,” Van Hollen said. “And that has been his main goal, to stop a two-state solution.”

On Wednesday, shortly after Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit, Saudi Arabia announced it would donate $40 million to UNRWA.

UNICEF, the agency that focuses on children and works with UNRWA, reports that to date at least 13,000 children have been killed in the war between Israel and Hamas, and more could be buried under the rubble. Those who survived face acute malnutrition: 31% of children under 2 now suffer in northern Gaza, according to UNICEF.

The UN agency also reports that 81% of households in Gaza lack clean water and nine out of ten do not have enough food to survive. The United States estimates that more than 30,000 Palestinians were killed.

“What doctors and medical staff are telling us is that they are seeing more and more the effects of starvation; they are seeing newborns dying simply because they are too low birth weight,” said Dr. Margaret Harrisof the United Nations World Health Organization on Tuesday.

Blinken is expected to visit Israel on Friday, and the State Department said he would discuss “international efforts to dramatically increase and sustain the delivery of humanitarian aid to civilians who are suffering from a lack of adequate food.”

UNRWA reports that during the first 17 days of March, an average of only 159 aid trucks per day were allowed into Gaza, which is “well below the operational capacity” of the crossings and below the target of 500 per day. Israeli drone strikes have occurred on or near humanitarian convoys.

“The security necessary to manage the crossings was seriously affected due to the deaths of several Palestinian police officers during Israeli airstrikes near the crossings in early February,” according to an UNRWA report released Wednesday. Israeli strikes have complicated deliveries, and the breakdown of civil order and crime have also complicated distribution.

Former U.S. Ambassador David Satterfield, the Biden administration’s special envoy for humanitarian affairs in the Middle East, spoke in February at a think tank in Washington about an Israeli Defense Forces strike on a police unit in Gaza which escorted UN humanitarian convoys. He said the strike was complicating efforts to protect and distribute aid.

The US military has airdropped food and is in the process of build a floating dock three miles off the coast of Gaza to provide more help. A U.S. Navy official said the effort would require 1,000 troops and take 60 days to be operational. Since no U.S. forces will be allowed to be in Gaza, the official said the distribution of aid – and the decision on who will provide security for trucks being transported to the territory – was still being worked out with d other partners.

Reuters was first to report Congress’ aid cut. The text of the financing agreement has not yet been made public, but is expected to be published within the next 24 hours.

— Ellee Watson, Olivia Gazis and Camila Schick contributed reporting.

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