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Azaizeh warns against cuts in UNRWA services to refugees

By JT - Nov 26,2012 - Last updated at Nov 26,2012

AMMAN — Any reduction in the services offered by UNRWA to Palestinian refugees will be a cause of alarm for their host countries, Minister of Social Development Wajih Azaizeh said on Monday.

Speaking at the opening of the UNRWA Advisory Commission meeting, Azaizeh called on donors to “move quickly” and not wait until the end of the fiscal year, the Jordan News Agency, Petra, reported.

The minister pointed out that Jordan hosts the largest number of Palestinian refugees, but its share of the agency’s budget is “less than what is required”, expressing concern over this situation.

He added that the host countries’ financial situation cannot endure more burdens in this regard, Petra reported.

At the meeting, UNRWA Commissioner General Filippo Grandi called on the international community and the parties in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to “seize the opportunity” provided by the Gaza ceasefire.

He described last week’s Israeli military offensive on Gaza as a “tragic escalation” and urged all to “address the real problems underlying the crisis”, according to an UNRWA statement.

Grandi called for “the illegal Israeli blockade to be lifted in all its aspects — crossings, fishing zones, imports, exports — with proper guarantees given to and by all parties in respect of the security of all civilians”.

Grandi acknowledged that to address root causes “difficult political work would have to be carried out, including promoting and supporting lasting Palestinian unity”.

“But failing to act now will have dire consequences,” he warned, according to the statement.

He added that the crisis in Gaza was “about the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a broader sense, with all its elements, including the situation in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem”.

Grandi also briefed advisory committee members on the crisis in Syria, where he said “concerns about the welfare of the half million Palestine refugees there have grown as they are increasingly affected by the conflict”.

He noted that “the vast majority of Palestinians in Syria maintain the shield of neutrality aware that their protection depends on it”, the statement said.

Grandi also warned that “we do observe explicit efforts to draw them into the conflict. It is therefore not difficult to imagine that they become, increasingly, targets of attacks — in the midst of a situation in which the killing and kidnapping of civilians, the destruction of their homes, and widespread fear have become so common that they don’t make the headlines any longer”.

“UNRWA’s strategy in Syria, as in Gaza is to be there, maintain services and address the growing emergency needs as much as possible.”

UNRWA, he said, “possesses proven operational abilities, through its existing staff capacity and infrastructure and will continue to build Palestinian resilience by continuing education, health and relief services, meeting emergency needs for food and supplies, particularly during winter, and assisting with shelter repair”.

On the question of his own tenure as commissioner general, Grandi has informed staff that the UN secretary general decided to extend his term for one more year, until January 20, 2014. This will ensure the stability of UNRWA’s leadership during a time of difficult political challenges, unrest and volatility in the region, the statement said.

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