UN extends Palestinian refugee mission until 2023

Troubled agency faced funding issues after US halted $360m aid last year

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The United Nations overwhelmingly voted to extend the work of its Palestinian refugee agency for another three years on Friday, despite fierce opposition from the United States and Israel.

The current mandate was due to run out in June 2020 but 169 countries approved a renewal up to 2023 at the UN General Assembly, with the Americans and Israelis voting against and nine countries abstaining.

The resolution approved on Friday "all donors to continue to strengthen their efforts to meet the anticipated needs of the agency" amid deteriorating socio-economic conditions in Palestine.

In a statement published by the official Palestinian news agency Wafa, President Mahmoud Abbas praised the vote as a victory for international law and the rights of the Palestinian refugees.

UNRWA, which was established in 1949, provides education, health and relief services as well as housing and microfinance assistance to more than 5 million registered refugees in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, as well as in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

US President Donald Trump's administration, along with Israel, accuses UNRWA of perpetuating the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

The agency disputes that and says the services it provides would otherwise not be available to Palestinians.

The agency has faced budgetary difficulties since last year, when the United States – its biggest donor – halted its aid of $360 million (Dh1.32 billion) a year. The United States and Israel have both accused UNRWA of mismanagement and anti-Israeli incitement.

Hardline Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, hailed the UN vote as a defeat for the United States and a failure of its attempts to pressure UN member-states against UNRWA.

"We welcome the decision to renew the international mandate to UNRWA and we see it as another failure [for] hostile US policies [towards] Palestinian rights," Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters.

The renewal comes at a time when the head of the troubled organisation resigned in November amid an internal probe into alleged mismanagement and ethical abuses.

An internal ethics report has alleged mismanagement and abuses of authority at the highest levels of the agency.

Last month UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krahenbuhl resigned amid an investigation. Mr Krahenbuhl has denied wrongdoing and said his agency was the victim of a political campaign designed to undermine it.

Switzerland, the Netherlands and Belgium suspended payments to UNRWA over the inquiry, deepening the budget crisis set off last year by the United States. UNRWA hopes the management shake-up will help pacify donors, said a source with knowledge of the organisation's thinking.

The United States has advocated shifting the agency's relief services to refugee host countries. But UNRWA counters it provides a humanitarian lifeline and that it safeguards and advances Palestinians' rights under international law.

Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Palestine Liberation Organisation official, praised the UN vote on Friday and said it was the United Nations' responsibility to combat what she called US and Israeli attacks on Palestinian refugees.

"All attempts at trying to limit UNRWA's mandate or defund it or attack it have failed, and we hope that the international community will continue to come to the rescue," she said.