JERUSALEM - Israel has announced it will close all UNRWA schools in East Jerusalem and replace them with Israeli-run schools.
The agency, officially known as the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, has been providing education, social and health services in the Palestinian territories since 1950.
UNRWA on Monday said it had not been notified of the Israeli government's decision.
According to a report in The Times of Israel, siting a report by Hadashot TV, the Israeli government's National Security Council has made the decision to revoke permits for the schools.
The UNRWA presently operates 7 schools in East Jerusalem, catering for 3,000 Palestinian children.
The report said the schools in future would come under the umbrella of the Jerusalem Municipality, which uses the curriculum set by the Israeli Education Ministry.
"UNRWA's existence in Jerusalem is not a gift from Israel," Sami Meshasha, the spokesperson for the agency said in a press statement on Monday.
"There are bilateral agreements binding on Israel to respect the agency's installations, jurisdiction and immunity in Jerusalem."
"In addition, Israel is a party to the 1946 Refugee Convention, and such attempts are in violation of this Convention," the UNRWA spokesperson added.
Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the PLO executive committee, a Christian, and an internationally-recognised human rights activist said the Israeli decision is "a direct insult to the international community and disregard for its laws and decisions and institutions."
"This provocative step deliberately targets Palestinian refugees and their rights guaranteed by international and humanitarian law," she said in a statement carried by Palestinian official news agency Wafa.
"It also targets Jerusalem and its institutions within the framework of the occupying state's strategy of Judaizing the Holy City, promoting the policy of ethnic cleansing, forced displacement, extending control over all aspects of life, and imposing new facts on the ground," she said.
East Jerusalem is internationally recognised as being occupied territory whereas Israel claims it is part of Israel, since the government annexed it in 1967 following the Six Day War. The international community says the annexation is illegal. Israel has often described Jerusalem as a whole as its capital, whereas Palestinians see East Jerusalem as their capital in a future state.
The move by the Israeli government to take over the schools was foreshadowed in October when the then-Mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barakat alleged UNRWA was operating illegally and promoting incitement against Israel.
"We are putting an end to the lie of the 'Palestinian refugee problem' and the attempts at creating a false sovereignty within a sovereignty," Barkat said at the time.
Of additional concern to the UN agency is that he said not only schools, but health clinics and sports centres 'among other services' would also be transferred to Israeli authorities.
The dismantling of UNRWA schools is a further blow to the agency which had its $300 million funding from the United States terminated by President Donald Trump four months ago. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar are among some Arab countries attempting to fill the gap in funding, however their contributioons have fallen well short of the UN body's budgetary requirements. Ireland has urged European states to setp up to the mark. Ireland added an additional two million euros last month, increasing its commitment for 2018 to 9 million euro.
The funding cut announced in September followed a report the previous month that Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump's son-in-law who is in charge of negoiating a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, had been spearheading an effort to get rid of UNRWA.
In an email to the U.S. President's Middle East peace envoy Jason Greenblatt and several other officials, dated January 11 2018, Kushner reportedly wrote that "it is important to have an honest and sincere effort to disrupt UNRWA."
In his email, Kushner reportedly wrote that the U.S. cannot allow the situation to remain stable and that it has to "strategically risk breaking things" to achieve its wide-reaching goals.