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UN marks 60th year of helping Palestinian refugees


UNITED NATIONS — In marking its 60th anniversary Thursday, the cash-strapped U.N. aid agency for Palestinian refugees asked the world for more generous funding and a renewed push to resolve the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The ceremony, held on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, was attended by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan’s Queen Rania.
The U.N. Relief and Works Agency was founded in 1949 to help hundreds of thousands of Palestinians uprooted during the Mideast war over Israel’s creation the year before. Today, it runs clinics, schools and social services for some 4.6 million refugees and their descendants in camps in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
The agency’s resources were particularly burdened by Israel’s bruising winter offensive against Gaza’s Hamas rulers. Since the Gaza war, UNRWA has expanded food distribution, and now provides services to nearly 1 million of the territory’s 1.4 million residents.
The Palestinians make up the world’s largest refugee group, and their plight has gone on longer than any other, UNRWA Commissioner-General Karen Abu Zayd noted at Thursday’s ceremony.
She urged the international community “to furnish the levels of financial and political support UNRWA requires to serve the
Palestinian refugees better.”
UNRWA is faced by a serious deficit “that threatens its ability to continue delivering services,” she said.
Abu Zayd asked for greater efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and with that, the plight of the refugees. “The protracted exile of Palestine refugees and the dire conditions they endure, particularly in the occupied Palestinian territory, cannot be reconciled with state obligations under the U.N. charter,” she said. Queen Rania, the wife of Jordan’s monarch, King Abdullah II, said she wished the agency was no longer necessary.
“I wished there was no anniversary to mark,” she said. “But you and I know the reality is very different. Theirs (the refugees’) life is very different. Theirs’ is a life interrupted, a life half lived. Hours wasted at checkpoints, another work day lost, another pay check canceled, worried about what the family will eat … praying for an aid parcel.”

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