US promises additional funds for Gaza relief efforts
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US promises additional funds for Gaza relief efforts

UNRWA programs to receive $59 million; State Dept. says over 55,000 Gazans still seeking shelter in UN facilities

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil is the Times of Israel's Washington correspondent.

A Palestinian woman holds the hand of a child as they head home with some of their belongings on August 27, 2014, in Gaza City's Shejaiya neighborhood. (photo credit: AFP/Robert Schmidt)
A Palestinian woman holds the hand of a child as they head home with some of their belongings on August 27, 2014, in Gaza City's Shejaiya neighborhood. (photo credit: AFP/Robert Schmidt)

WASHINGTON — US Secretary of State John Kerry announced Monday that the US would provide an additional $71 million for what State Department officials described as “life-saving humanitarian assistance to help meet emergency needs in Gaza.” The additional grant brings to $118 million the total funds provided by the United States to aid in humanitarian relief following this summer’s Operation Protective Edge.

According to the State Department, there are still over 58,000 Gazans still seeking shelter in United Nations facilities, and officials say that basic necessities like food, clean water, and fuel remain in short supply throughout the territory.

The vast majority of the newest contribution – some $59 million – will support United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) programs in Gaza. The State Department said that the remaining $12 million will support the work of other implementing partners, including those of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), in their efforts to provide emergency water, shelter, food, and healthcare.

In a written statement, State Department officials emphasized that “the United States remains committed to addressing the needs of the Palestinian people.”

US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during a joint press conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri in Cairo, Egypt, on Saturday, Sept. 13, 2014. (photo credit: AP/Brendan Smialowski, Pool)
US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during a joint press conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri in Cairo, Egypt, on Saturday, Sept. 13, 2014. (photo credit: AP/Brendan Smialowski, Pool)

This assistance comes in addition to the $47 million in humanitarian assistance to Gaza announced by Kerry on July 21, for a total commitment of more than $118 million. The July announcement was made shortly after the discovery of rockets stored in UNRWA schools, engendering criticism for providing US support to the organization.

“UNRWA has long overstepped its mandate and has been acting as a political entity with an anti-Israel, anti-Semitic agenda, and the United States shouldn’t be funding it at all. UNRWA has a long history of incitement against Israel in its schools and it certainly has its hands dirty with its ties to Hamas, as Hamas operatives dominate UNRWA’s unions,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) following the July announcement.

The State Department defended the July decision, with Deputy Spokeswoman Marie Harf describing UNRWA as “an important organization.”

“UNRWA is a humanitarian organization operating in a very difficult environment,” Harf said. “It is a relief organization, it is not a peacekeeping organization that can deal with rockets.”

The question of how best to provide reconstruction aid to Gazans without offering support to Hamas also came up Monday during a pre-Rosh Hashanah conference call between US President Barack Obama and hundreds of rabbis from the Reform, Conservative, Orthodox and Reconstructionist movements.

Two questions were asked by participants during the conversation, and one centered around American plans to ensure that humanitarian aid to Gaza would not end up benefiting Hamas. Past humanitarian shipments, including building materials, are believed to have been channeled to Hamas’s terror tunnels rather than used for residential reconstruction or infrastructure development.

In the phone call, Obama provided the rabbis with assurances that the United States had a plan in place to ensure that Hamas would not benefit from reconstruction aid provided to rebuild Gaza’s damaged infrastructures following Operation Protective Edge.

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