70 House Democrats urge Trump administration to restore Gaza aid funding
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70 House Democrats urge Trump administration to restore Gaza aid funding

J Street-backed missive asks White House to 'immediately take action' to alleviate suffering in coastal enclave

Eric Cortellessa covers American politics for The Times of Israel.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo listens as US President Donald Trump speaks during a cabinet meeting at the White House, Thursday, June 21, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo listens as US President Donald Trump speaks during a cabinet meeting at the White House, Thursday, June 21, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON — Seventy House Democrats on Monday urged the Trump administration to reinstate its humanitarian aid funding in Gaza, saying that it was necessary toward alleviating the crisis there.

The missive — supported by the left-wing Middle East advocacy group J Street — argued that the White House’s cuts to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNWRA) was exacerbating an already-deteriorating situation that poses long-term security risks to Israel.

“We urge you to immediately restore funding for humanitarian aid in Gaza because it plays a critical role in the larger US strategy to secure peace and stability in the region,” the lawmakers said.

In January, Washington announced it would withhold $65 million in assistance to the UN relief agency for Palestinians. The move came after Palestinians protested US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the US embassy there.

US President Donald Trump speaks about his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin ahead of a meeting with Republican lawmakers and cabinet members on tax cuts at the White House in Washington, DC, on July 17, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / NICHOLAS KAMM)

“We pay the Palestinians HUNDRED OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect,” Trump tweeted on January 3.

In the letter addressed to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton, the House members also stressed their contention that the US should work to increase electricity provisions in the coastal enclave and encourage Israel and Egypt to lift their blockades.

“We believe the US should encourage all parties to increase access to electricity flow in Gaza to meet the critical need for reliable energy,” the letter says. “We should also push our partners to ease the blockade on the movement of goods, equipment and people in and out of the territory, especially for materials and supplies related to critical projects like medicine, hospital supplies and water treatment.”

Israel has imposed a blockade on Gaza since Hamas, a terrorist organization sworn to Israel’s destruction, seized the territory from the internationally backed Palestinian Authority in 2007. It says the blockade is in place to prevent weapons and other military equipment from entering the Strip.

Egypt, too, has kept its Gaza border crossing largely closed during several years of sour relations with the Islamist group ruling Gaza.

Palestinian boys walk through the wreckage of a building that was damaged by Israeli air strikes in Gaza City on July 15, 2018. (AFP / MAHMUD HAMS)J

This letter follows a similar initiative that was led by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders last May, in which he calls for the Trump administration to address the crisis in Gaza. Twelve other Democratic senators were signatories.

J Street praised Monday’s letter, which was authored by Wisconsin Rep. Mark Pocan, California Rep. Barbara Lee, Illinois Rep. Jan Schakowsky and Kentucky Rep. John Yarmuth

“The crisis in Gaza calls for steps to break the disastrous status quo and cycle of violence,” the group said in a statement. “Instead of standing idly by while violence and suffering escalate, the US government should be taking bold action to provide humanitarian relief to those in need — and strongly encouraging Israel, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority to do the same.”

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