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US cuts $200 million from Palestinian aid

Aug. 25, 2018 12:54 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 30, 2018 4:41 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- The United States Donald Trump administration announced, on Friday, that it has made a decision to cut more than $200 million from the financial aid budget to Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and besieged Gaza Strip.

A senior US State Department official said "as a result of that review, at the direction of the president, we will direct more than $200 million in Economic Support Funds originally planned for programs in the West Bank and Gaza. Those funds will now address high-priority projects elsewhere."

The official stressed "this decision takes into account the challenges the international community faces in providing assistance in Gaza, where Hamas control endangers the lives of Gaza's citizens and degrades an already dire humanitarian and economic situation."

"We have undertaken a review of US assistance to the Palestinian Authority (PA) and in the West Bank and Gaza to ensure these funds are spent in accordance with US national interests and provide value to the US taxpayer," the official added.

The US Trump administration said that the Hamas movement's control of Gaza was one of the main reasons it wanted to cut its aid to the Gaza Strip.

Trump's issue with the PA's support of continuing to pay stipends to the families of killed, injured or imprisoned Palestinians, despite repeatedly demanding to halt those payments and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas refusing to do so, was the other main reason for cutting aid.

As a result of President Abbas's refusal to halt stipends, the US had froze its aid funds to the PA, which was later followed by Israel deducting its funds as well. Both the Trump administration and Israel believe that the "martyrs fund encourages terrorism."

The drastic aid cut is expected to cause a deterioration in the humanitarian situation in the besieged Gaza Strip, where nearly 2 million Palestinians are packed into the coastal enclave that suffers deep economic hardship.

The US Congress had originally approved $250 million for Palestinian aid for the current fiscal year and was planned to be used for good governance, health, education and funding for civil society in the current budget year that ends September 30.

However, with just over a month left before the approved aid must be used, reprogrammed to other areas or returned to the US Treasury, less than half has actually been spent.

The announcement to cut aid comes days after Trump said in a speech that the "Palestinians will get something very good because it's their turn next," as part of the so-called peace plan "Deal of the Century," in return for his recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

The announcement is also expected to continue to hurt the Trump administration's relationship with the Palestinian Authority.

The PA and the Trump administration have not communicated since last December, when Trump announced his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital and the US embassy move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. In May, the US embassy was officially moved to Jerusalem and Trump declared Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, despite condemnations from the international community and foreign leaders.

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