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16 Jan, 2018 22:54

US freezes $65 million in Palestinian aid, but it's ‘not a punishment’ – State Department

US freezes $65 million in Palestinian aid, but it's ‘not a punishment’ – State Department

The United States has announced its withholding $65 million in aid to Palestinian refugees but is insistent the move is not aimed at punishing Palestinians.

Washington officially announced Tuesday that it is freezing the funds “for future consideration.” The money was set to be allocated to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) which works with Palestinian refugees.

"This is not aimed at punishing anyone,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told a media briefing.

It was initially reported ten days ago that Washington would withhold $125 million from the UN-affiliated body, but official word only arrived Tuesday. The funds were supposed to be paid at the start of the year.

The decision to suspend the aid comes two weeks after President Donald Trump threatened to cut funding. In a tweet on January 2, Trump said the US gets no “appreciation or respect” from Palestine despite donating hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

“They don’t even want to negotiate a long overdue peace treaty with Israel... With the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?” Trump said.

The tweets came after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas rejected Trump’s move to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Abbas added that the US can no longer be considered an honest broker in the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

A US official, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, did not link the fund freeze to the president’s tweets, instead demanding that other countries do more to help Palestine.

“It is time other countries, some of them quite wealthy, step in and do their part to advance regional security and stability,” the official said.