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UN Relief Agency Halts Gaza Aid

FILE - A man stands in rubble of his house, destroyed in this year's Israel-Hamas conflict, in the Shijaiyah neighborhood of Gaza City, Nov. 24, 2014.

The head of the United Nations agency aiding Palestinians in rebuilding homes damaged or destroyed in last year's 50-day war with Israel urged international donors Wednesday to live up to their pledges and provide urgently needed funding.

U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) Commissioner-General Pierre Krahenbuhl described the situation in Gaza as critical and said the agency is "bitterly disappointed" at having to suspend aid payments to tens of thousands of Palestinian families.

"We will never give up our commitment [to the] people of Gaza," he posted on Twitter. "We will mobilize every energy we have to get the money to resume these activities."

An UNRWA statement said the agency needs $100 million by the end of March to pay for repairs to damaged homes and rent for those who need a place to live. It put the total bill for 96,000 damaged or destroyed homes at $720 million, with donors providing only $135 million so far.

UNRWA Director in Gaza Robert Turner said people are desperate, and that billions of dollars in aid that governments pledged at a conference last year remain unpaid.

"People are literally sleeping amongst the rubble; children have died of hypothermia," he said. "Five-point-four billion dollars was pledged at the Cairo conference last October and virtually none of it has reached Gaza. This is distressing and unacceptable."

The fighting in July and August flattened entire neighborhoods and killed more than 2,100 Palestinians in Gaza, most of them civilians, along with 67 Israeli soldiers and six civilians.

Israeli rights group B'Tselem issued a report Wednesday calling Israel's airstrikes on residential buildings "one of the appalling hallmarks of the fighting" and saying such strikes were approved by top officials. It said Israel's conduct may have violated international law.

The Israel Defense Forces denied the allegations, reiterating its stance that any residential buildings were made "legitimate military targets" when used by militants to launch rocket attacks at Israel.

Material for this report came from AP and AFP.

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