Palestinians reacted angrily Saturday to a US decision to end all funding for the UN agency that assists millions of refugees, seeing it as a new policy shift aimed at undermining their cause.

Washington, which until last year was by far the biggest contributor to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), announced on Friday that it would no longer make any contributions to the “irredeemably flawed operation”.

The move by President Donald Trump s administration was described as “cruel and irresponsible” by senior Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi.

“The Palestinian refugees are already the victims who have lost their homes, livelihoods and security as a result of the creation of the state of Israel,” she said.

The US has backed Israel in accusing the agency of perpetuating the Middle East conflict by maintaining the idea that many Palestinians are refugees with a right to return to homes in what is now Israel.

But to Palestinians, the right of return for the hundreds of thousands who fled or were expelled during the 1948 war that accompanied Israel s creation is central to their cause.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the American administration was invalidating future peace talks by “preempting, prejudging issues reserved for permanent status” negotiations.

Palestinian and Israeli “elements that want to achieve peace peacefully, based on a two states solution, are being destroyed,” he told AFP.

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