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Israeli mayor Nir Barkat vows to 'expel UNRWA' from Jerusalem

The Shuafat refugee camp is home to some 30,000 Palestinians. [Getty]

Date of publication: 3 September, 2018

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Jerusalem's Israeli mayor Nir Barkat on Monday vowed to expel the UN's Palestinian refugee agency from Jerusalem, just days after the United States halted all funding for the agency.

Jerusalem's Israeli mayor Nir Barkat on Monday vowed to expel the UN's Palestinian refugee agency from Jerusalem, just days after the United States halted all funding for the agency.

"Removing UNRWA will reduce the incitement and terror, will improve the services to residents, will increase the Israelization of the east of the city, and will contribute to the sovereignty and unity of Jerusalem," Barkat said at a conference organised by Israel's Channel 2 news.

Barkat said he had instructed city officials to prepare a plan to replace all of UNRWA's functions in Jerusalem with municipal services.

"UNRWA is a foreign and unnecessary entity that has failed utterly, and I intend to remove it from Jerusalem," Barkat said. "Every aspect of UNRWA is dysfunctional and failing."

The mayor provided no time frame for when he will implement the changes.

UNRWA has been responsible for residents of the Shuafat refugee camp in East Jerusalem since 1965.

The refugee camp is home to some 30,000 refugees, the majority of whom are descendants of Palestinians expelled from the Old City during the 1967 war.

The refugee camp is located beyond Israel's separation wall in an area of land called the 'seam zone', home to 120,000 Palestinians.

'Outrageous'

Senior Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi slammed Barkat's plan to expel UNRWA from East Jerusalem.

"Barkat's pledge to expel UNRWA from occupied Jerusalem and shut down its services and programmes is arrogant and outrageous," she said in a statement.

"Israel is responsible for creating the Palestinian refugee problem, and it has no right to alter the mandate, duties and responsibilities of UNRWA as defined by the United Nations."

Barkat has clearly been "emboldened by the latest American decision to defund UNRWA and redefine the status of Palestinian refugees," she added.

The proposed measure comes just days after the Trump administration halted funding for the United Nations' agency for Palestinian refugees on Friday after declaring that the organisation was "irredeemably flawed".

Washington had long been the UN Relief and Works Agency's (UNRWA) largest donor but said it was "no longer willing to shoulder the very disproportionate share of the burden."

Palestinian officials say the decision to cut UNRWA's funding is part of a plan to dismantle the UN agency and take the issue of Palestinian refugees off the table in any peace negotiations.

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) has been a lifeline for millions of Palestinians since it was set up nearly 70 years ago.

It provides aid to more than three million out of the five million Palestinians registered as refugees, through its schools and health centres in the occupied Palestinian territories, but also in Lebanon, Jordan and Syria.

There are 58 refugee camps recognised by the agency, of which 19 are in the West Bank, a Palestinian territory under Israeli military occupation for over half a century.

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