GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees on Monday launched an “unprecedented” appeal seeking hundreds of millions of dollars in response to funding cuts by the Trump administration.

Last week the State Department notified the U.N. Relief and Works Agency that the U.S. is withholding $65 million of a planned $125 million funding installment. It also made clear that additional U.S. donations will be contingent on major changes by UNRWA, which has been heavily criticized by Israel.

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians either fled or were forced from their homes during the war that led to Israel’s establishment in 1948. Today, there are an estimated 5 million refugees and their descendants, mostly scattered across the region. UNWRA provides them with education, health and welfare services.

UNRWA’s commissioner-general, Pierre Krahenbuhl, on Monday called the decision “abrupt and harmful.”

He said the agency will create new funding alliances and get the UN secretary-general involved in high-level ministerial meetings to generate donations from countries.

The “Dignity is Priceless” campaign aims to raise $500 million to ensure that the agency’s core services are unaffected.

“We cannot accept that this investment in education, in health care, and in dignity and respect would be interrupted in any way. It’s much too risky for the entire Middle East,” Krahenbuhl warned.

The U.S. is UNWRA’s largest donor, supplying nearly 30 percent of its budget. The agency focuses on providing health care, education and social services to Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

In Gaza, more than 1.3 million residents — half the population — rely on food and other services provided by the agency. On Monday, Gaza businesses went on a partial strike to protest the economic situation.

Notices on the shuttered doors read “we want to live” and “enough of siege,” referring to the blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt after the Islamic militant group Hamas took over the territory in 2007.