Belgium acts to offset American UNRWA cut

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PRESIDENT Mahmoud Abbas met on Tuesday with Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel and discussed with him the latest Palestinian and regional developments.

Abbas, on an official visit to Brussels where he met European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and its foreign ministers on Monday, thanked Belgium for its support of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).

Belgium announced last week that it will provide the UN agency with 19 million euros in aid for the next three years, two million dollars more than its annual allocation. The decision came after the United States cut this month $65 million from its annual financial contribution to UNRWA to pressure the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table with Israel.

Belgium also said it will immediately pay 6.3 million euros from its 2018 contribution to offset the American cut. President Abbas briefed Michel on the situation in Palestine and the region following the US decision recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. They also discussed developing bilateral relations in all fields.

Meanwhile, as US Vice-President Mike Pence visited the region, Israeli police on Tuesday imposed strict movement and security restrictions in the Old City area in Jerusalem, which included the closure of many roads leading to Palestinian neighbourhoods, as Pence arrived in Jerusalem.

Israeli police closed the entrances leading to Wadi Rababa and Wadi Hilweh neighbourhood districts outside the Old City area in Jerusalem, denying entry and exit of Palestinians to the two areas.

Pence’s visit to Jerusalem, only came a month following US President Trump’s widely rejected decision to recognise the city as Israel’s capital. Pence, staunchly pro-Israel, who pushed for recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and a strong advocate of moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, was visiting Al-Buraq Wall, one of the walls of Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City.

In a statement earlier on Tuesday, both nationalist and Islamic forces in Jerusalem described Pence’s visit to Al-Buraq as ‘desecration of Jerusalem and the holy Wall, the original part of the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque’. At the same time, PLO Executive Committee Member Hanan Ashrawi received Egyptian-Ambassador-designate Issam Ashour in the PLO Headquarters in Ramallah on Tuesday, and welcomed him to Palestine.

Both parties affirmed the strong historical ties and relations between Palestine and Egypt and reviewed issues of mutual cooperation and interest. The diplomatic visit took place at the same time as shops, schools and businesses in Jerusalem and the West Bank observed a general strike to protest against Pence’s visit at the invitation of the Israeli Zionist regime.

Hanan Ashrawi extended her gratitude to the Egyptian government for its continued support of Palestinian reconciliation, in particular the fundamental role it played in bringing about the agreement signed between Fatah and Hamas in October. The meeting, which was largely informal, focused on the latest political and regional developments, including Pence’s visit.

She said, ‘The extremist positions of this US Administration and the biblical messianic message of Pence not only disqualified the US as a peace broker but created conditions of volatility and instability in the region and beyond.’ She added: ‘The Administration’s blind support of Israel and its complicit role in the military occupation have dealt a deathblow to the chances of peace.’

The discussion also addressed Israeli escalations on the ground and regional and Arab developments, as well as the internal situation in Palestine and the latest updates regarding reconciliation and elections. The Palestinian government also denounced on Tuesday an Israeli finance ministry decision to cut half a million Israeli shekels ($145 million) from the Palestinian tax money to compensate collaborators.

The cabinet discussed in its weekly meeting in Ramallah the Israeli decision and said that the Israeli finance ministry has decided to cut the amount from the taxes and customs Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinians on goods imported by Palestinian businesses that enter the West Bank and Gaza Strip through Israeli ports.

It said an Israeli district court had ruled in favour of Palestinians who sued the Palestinian Authority for compensation after they claimed they were tortured on suspicion of spying for Israel and ordered the PA (Palestine Authority) to compensate them for damages.

‘This amount is only the first instalment in a series of payments that could reach millions of shekels the Israeli government intends to seize for this dubious allegation,’ said a Palestinian cabinet statement.

‘This measure is nothing more than an Israeli piracy of Palestinian funds and is part of a policy to seize Palestinian tax revenues employed by the Israeli government on several occasions while it refuses to provide the Palestinian side with the details of what is being deducted from these revenues and its insistence on disposing of Palestinian funds on its own volition as its refuses to check all bills since the establishment of the (Palestinian) Authority and its refusal to resolve outstanding financial records.’

The cabinet said it will take all necessary measures to retrieve Palestinian financial rights.

While the general strike was underway and these diplomatic and political measures were taking place, also on Tuesday the Zionist regime was maintaining its daily brutal actions against the Palestinian people.

Israeli forces on Tuesday shot and injured two Palestinian youths who they accused of having attempted to carry out a stabbing attack at Za’atara military checkpoint, south of Nablus, said medical and security sources. Israeli forces stationed at the checkpoint claimed they opened fire at the two youths after they allegedly attempted to stab soldiers, injuring both in their lower limbs.

One was believed to be moderately injured and the second lightly.

Soldiers prevented Palestinian Red Crescent paramedics from reaching the scene, leaving both youths bleeding on the ground until they were taken away by Israeli ambulance. No Israeli soldiers were injured in the alleged stabbing attempt. Israeli forces subsequently closed the checkpoint, blocking traffic in the area.

Israeli forces detained two Palestinian minors during clashes with local Palestinians in Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem in the southern West Bank, according to Palestinian security sources. Soldiers arrested Mutaz Nazih Badwan, 15, and Mohammad Salah Masaeed, 14, during the clashes at the northern end of the city.

The army reportedly used teargas canisters and stun grenades to disperse Palestinians who were protesting at the US decision on Jerusalem and the visit of the US vice president to the city.

There were no reports of injuries. Israeli forces on Tuesday detained 10 Palestinians during military raid-and-search campaigns into multiple West Bank districts, in addition to seven others, six of whom are minors, from the Jerusalem area, said local sources.

The Israeli army carried out a wide-scale raid-and-search campaign in the Jenin area during which four Palestinians in their 20s were detained. Forces reportedly raided, searched, and wreaked havoc in a number of homes after breaking down their front doors. They further interrogated the homes’ dwellers.

Forces also detained three Palestinian youth after raiding and searching their homes in Qalandiya refugee camp, north of occupied Jerusalem, in addition to three others in the West Bank city of Qalqiliya. Meanwhile, in the Jerusalem area, Israeli police detained seven Palestinians, including six minors between the ages of 14 and 16. They were taken to detention and interrogation centres.

The Israeli army ordered a Palestinian in the Cremisan area in Beit Jala, east of Bethlehem, to vacate and demolish a room he had built near a cave where he lives under the pretext of construction without an Israeli permit, according to a local source. Hasan Breijieh, from the anti-settlements committee in Bethlehem, said that the Israeli army ordered Nasri Nimer Abed Rabbo to evacuate the room he has built near the cave and to demolish it.

He said Abed Rabbo built the room near the cave where he lives on his land 20 years ago to protect his 22-dunums of land from Israeli confiscation for settlement expansion purposes. He added that Israeli authorities have demolished structures which Abed Rabbo had built on the same land three times in order to force him to leave it. The army is also building a wall in the area, which Abed Rabbo fears could prevent him from reaching his land.