By Suleiman Al-Khalidi

AMMAN (Reuters) – Jordan’s already weakened economy will face even tougher times if several donors continue to suspend funding to the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees and, as a result, its services have to be closed or reduced, the government said on Tuesday. head of UNRWA in the country.

“The current suspension of funding puts the continuation of these services after the end of February at risk. It will have serious consequences (for UNRWA operations),” said Olaf Becker, Jordanian director of the UNRWA Public Works and Relief Agency. UN.

UNRWA, which provides health care, education and other services, has been plunged into crisis since Israel alleged that 12 of its 13,000 employees in Gaza were involved in the Hamas-led attack on Israel on October 7 that precipitated the war between Israel and Hamas. The allegations led major donors to suspend funding.

Jordan, which is at the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict, hosts 2.4 million Palestinian refugees, the largest number of refugees among Israel’s neighbors. Many of its citizens are of Palestinian origin.

Jordan already provides $1 billion in infrastructure and other services to 10 Palestinian camps across the country, where the agency runs schools and health services for nearly 400,000 residents, Becker said.

UNRWA was already helping the economy with 7,000 employees on its payroll, making it one of the kingdom’s largest employers, injecting more than $120 million in salaries into the economy annually, Becker said.

Its services support more than one million Palestinian refugees in the kingdom at, on average, 20% less cost than the state in providing comparable services, Becker added.

“Our first option would be to reduce our services and it could take different modalities, but it is very difficult: what do you choose, health care versus education or sanitation?” he said.

“School-aged children might have nowhere to go… It will be very detrimental to social cohesion in Jordan,” Becker said.

Jordan, a strong US ally, says it is crucial to continue strengthening UNRWA, established in 1949 under a UN mandate in the wake of the first Arab-Israeli war.

Jordan’s King Abdullah, speaking on Monday during a visit to the White House, said UNRWA’s work in Jordan was “vital” and it was imperative that it receive support to continue its mandate.

Sheri Ritsema-Anderson, UN Resident Coordinator in Jordan, said no other UN agency could take on UNRWA’s role in a short time and within its cost structure.

Jordanian officials say any attempt to dismantle UNRWA would undermine the Palestinian right, under international law, to return to their abandoned homes in Israel or be compensated.

(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi, additional reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt in Washington, editing by William Maclean)

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