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UN refugee agency warns of ‘tough decisions’ amid worsening budget deficit

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The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) warned Sunday that it might be forced to make "tough decisions" due to a worsening budget deficit.

"If donor countries do not make new financial contributions to help UNRWA provide its main health and education services by May, services will be at risk," UNRWA's Director of Operations in Gaza Matthias Schmale told reporters.

He added that "UNRWA has not closed any of its institutions and did not take any actions to do so, but if these states do not fund UNRWA to support its services, the administration may make difficult decisions."

Schmale also said that UNRWA was forced to halt its unemployment contracts this year "in order to continue providing food aid to Palestinian refugees until June," adding that "if the agency does not receive funding then all its service will be at risk, including food aid for Palestinian refugees."

Pointing out that "77 percent of the 1 million Palestinian refugees who receive food aid in Gaza live below poverty line," the senior official criticized the international community for leaving the issue of Palestinian refugees unresolved.

He called on Arab, European countries as well as China and Brazil to provide urgent assistance to UNRWA in order to continue its services.

"UNRWA is being undermined by the United Nations General Assembly and no member state has called for a change in our mandate, which will only change with a just and comprehensive solution to the Palestinian refugee cause," he said.

UNRWA announced that 90 countries will participate in an international conference scheduled to be held in Rome on Thursday to discuss the financial crisis of the agency.

"The conference will be held under the patronage and invitation of the Swedish, Jordanian and Egyptian governments," UNRWA spokesman Sami Mushaasha told the official Voice of Palestine radio earlier Sunday.

The conference call "came in the context of the worsening financial situation of the agency and its consequences on the services provided by UNRWA in all areas of its work, after the reduction of US financial support," said the spokesman.

UNRWA recently launched a global fundraising campaign to meet its fiscal deficit and challenges as a result of the reduction of US support.

The United States recently announced to withhold 65 million US dollars out of the 125-million-dollar grant planned for UNRWA. Washington later also suspended its 45 million dollars in food aid pledged last month to UNRWA.

This came after the US administration threatened to reduce financial support to the Palestinians until they agree to return to the table of peace negotiations with Israel, which has been stalled for four years.

UNRWA has been suffering from severe financial difficulties for several years and complained at the end of last year of a budget deficit of 49 million dollars which severely affects its services.

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