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UN agency says not aware of reported plan to close east Jerusalem schools

FILE - In this Sunday, Aug. 16, 2015 file photo, a Palestinian school girl chants slogans during a demonstration against a U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) funding gap that could keep about 500,000 Palestinian students out of school this fall, outside
AP Photo/ Khalil Hamra, File
In October, former Jerusalem mayor detailed a proposal to replace all UNRWA services with municipal services

Israeli officials are reportedly set to revoke permits for east Jerusalem schools run by the UN agency for Palestinian refugees and replace them with schools run by the city’s municipality under the auspices of Israel’s education ministry.

But the UN agency known as UNRWA said Sunday it was not aware of a reported plan by Israel to close its schools in east Jerusalem.

The move, reported by Hadashot TV news on Saturday, follows a decision by Israel’s National Security Council last month which met to discuss ways to expel the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) from east Jerusalem following US President Donald Trump’s decision to cut American funding to the agency.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office did not confirm the report to AFP.

According to the report, UNRWA schools will lose permits to operate in Palestinian neighborhoods in east Jerusalem at the beginning of the next academic year.

The move will affect some 3,000 students who attend seven UNRWA schools in two refugee camps that sit within Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries, according to the agency.

UNRWA said it "was not notified of any decision to close down schools it operates in east Jerusalem."

"We deliver services and maintain facilities in east Jerusalem since 1950 under our General Assembly mandate," it said in a statement. "This mandate includes east Jerusalem as part of our operational area."

It added that Israel was party to commitments obligating it to protect the agency's operations in areas under its authority.

Israel has long pushed for UNRWA's closure, arguing it helps perpetuate the conflict with the Palestinians.

AP Photo/Hassan Ammar

A month later, longtime Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat -- who ended his tenure last month -- detailed a proposal to completely remove UNRWA from the city and replace it with municipal education, health, welfare, and sanitation services.

Barkat’s plan included the closure of all UNRWA schools and health centers in east Jerusalem.

In September, the US announced that it would no longer fund UNRWA, responsible for delivering services to some 5.4 million Palestinians, saying it had become an "irredeemably flawed operation."

Israel has long criticized UNRWA, arguing it perpetuates the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by extending refugee status to fourth and fifth generation descendants of legitimate Palestinian refugees who either fled or were forced from their homes during the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s establishment.

The US, too, has contended that the inter-generational assistance provided by UNRWA has created a culture of dependency and helps preserve the unrealistic expectation that millions of Palestinians will one day be granted the "right of return" to their ancestral homes in what is now Israel.

Washington had long been the largest single donor to the agency, supplying nearly 30 percent of the total budget to UNRWA which provides healthcare, education and social service to almost five million Palestinians across the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

The disputed status of Jerusalem -- along with the issue of Palestinian refugees -- have long been major sticking points in peace efforts.

Israel considers all of Jerusalem its united capital, while the Palestinians see the predominantly Arab eastern sector as the capital of their desired future state.

(AFP contributed to this report.)

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