By Michelle Nichols
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - A United Nations agency that supports Palestinian refugees received contributions of $118 million (90.2 million pounds) on Thursday, narrowing a budget gap for this year to $68 million as it aims to fill a shortfall left by a cut in U.S. funding.
Pierre Krahenbuhl, Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), said the pledges were made at a meeting on the sidelines of the annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations in New York.
He said the largest funding pledges on Thursday were made by Germany, the European Union, Kuwait, Ireland and Norway.
"Five million Palestinian refugees were following these events very, very closely indeed. It was year of tremendous existential concerns, of great anxiety ... I think it is a very big step that has been achieved today," Krahenbuhl said.
The United States last month announced a halt in its aid to UNRWA, calling it an "irredeemably flawed operation," a decision that further heightened tensions between the Palestinian leadership and the Trump administration.
UNRWA provides services to about 5 million Palestinian refugees across Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the West Bank and Gaza. Most are descendants of some 700,000 Palestinians who were driven out of their homes or fled fighting in the 1948 war that led to Israel's creation.
The growing refugee count was cited by Washington, UNRWA's biggest donor, in its decision to withhold funding.
"We're sending a message that the world does still care about the plight of Palestinian refugees," Jordan's Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi told reporters.
"The challenge is to sustain this effort and part of what we discussed today is a way in which we could have a long term financial planning so not every year in August, Palestinian kids will be wondering if they have a school to go to," he said.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; editing by Grant McCool)