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Outgoing Jerusalem Mayor: Time's Up for UNRWA 'Refugee Camp'

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, join Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and his wife, Beverly, for a ride on the city's light rail, Photo, GPO archive, Kobi Gideon

JERUSALEM, Israel – Outgoing Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat wants to change the status of Shuafat, an UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees) camp established within the capital's municipal borders.

Shuafat has had a tumultuous history and Barkat believes it's time for a change.

UNRWA created the camp near the end of Jordan's 19-year occupation, which ended after the 1967 Six-Day War that reunited the city under Israeli sovereignty.

Barkat says the US administration's decision to defund UNRWA created "a rare opportunity" to move the plan forward. He wants the municipality to take over all of UNRWA's functions in the capital.

"There are no refugees in Jerusalem, only residents," Barkat said in a statement released on Thursday. "They will receive their services from the Jerusalem municipality alone, like all other residents."

The Jerusalem municipality, he said, has created a detailed plan replacing all UNRWA services, including education, healthcare, employment, welfare and sanitation. It includes detailed construction plans to revamp existing facilities and build new ones.

Some 1,800 children attend UNRWA-run schools in Shuafat. The plan calls for closing them at the end of the current academic year and absorbing the students into the city's existing schools, which operate under the Education Ministry.

It's a plan that aims at integrating rather than segregating Jerusalem's Arab residents.

It also includes replacing UNRWA-run medical centers with facilities that operate under the auspices of the Health Ministry to upgrade healthcare for all its residents. And it includes transferring employment and welfare services to municipality-run programs.

Barkat says it's time to end UNRWA's dangerous strategy that foments terror and incitement.

" We are putting an end to the lie of the 'Palestinian refugee problem' and the attempts at creating a false sovereignty within a sovereignty," he said.

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