By Andrea Shalal
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Biden administration plans to wait for an internal investigation of the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees to conclude before resuming aid to the organization, U.S. officials told Arab-American community leaders in Michigan.
U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power and other senior U.S. officials visited the 2024 election battleground state of Michigan on Thursday amid widespread criticism there of President Joe Biden's policy on Israel, his failure to call for a ceasefire on attacks on Gaza and continued military aid.
During the meeting, the officials said the U.S. remained committed to providing humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people, but would wait for the investigation into UNWRA to be complete, said Ali Dagher, a Lebanese-American attorney who took part in one of four discussions with U.S. officials in Dearborn, a majority Arab-American city near Detroit.
Abbas Alawieh, a former senior congressional staffer who also participated in one of the discussions, told Reuters that Power spoke at length about UNWRA but indicated Biden was not planning to reverse his decision to halt aid to the agency.
Sixteen countries suspended their funding to UNRWA after Israel accused 12 of UNRWA's 13,000 employees in the Gaza Strip of taking part in the Hamas-led assault on Israel last autumn.
UNRWA officials say they expect the U.N. oversight office's preliminary investigation report to take several weeks.
Alawieh, in a separate meeting with reporters, said U.S. officials conceded "mistakes and missteps" had been made in the situation overall, but focused on the administration's messaging and declined to make any commitment to push the president - even privately - to call for a ceasefire.
"They did tell us in that meeting that they ... expect that the president will be shifting his language," Alawieh said. "But we're not looking for language shifts. ... We're looking for action from President Biden that saves lives."
Israel began its military offensive after militants from Hamas-ruled Gaza killed 1,200 people and took 253 hostages on Oct. 7. Gaza's health ministry says at least 27,940 Palestinians have been confirmed killed, with nearly 70,000 more injured and thousands more feared buried under rubble.
There has been only one truce so far, for a week at the end of November.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Heather Timmons and Jonathan Oatis)