After freeze, Canada said planning to restore funding to UNRWA

Ottawa official says minister planned to unveil move this week, but announcement was delayed; Qatar pledges $25 million to UN refugee agency accused by Israel of terror ties

People walk past the damaged Gaza City headquarters of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) on February 15, 2024. (AFP)
People walk past the damaged Gaza City headquarters of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) on February 15, 2024. (AFP)

Canada will restore funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinians, a government official told The Associated Press, weeks after the agency lost hundreds of millions of dollars in support following Israeli allegations that some of its staffers participated in the massive Hamas terror attack on October 7 that opened the ongoing war in the Gaza Strip.

It came as some countries that shut off funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) over the Israeli allegations have begun trickling back to committing cash.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation first reported that Canada would restore funding and that International Development Minister Ahmed Hussen would announce the decision on Wednesday. But the government official told the AP the announcement has been delayed, speaking on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to comment on the matter.

Canada’s foreign minister is currently in the Middle East and plans to visit Israel.

Meanwhile, Qatar’s UN ambassador Sheikha Alya Ahmed bin Saif Al-Thani pledged an additional $25 million to UNRWA to help it meet emergency needs, Qatar’s state news agency reported.

UNRWA, the UN body that provides welfare and humanitarian services for Palestinian refugees from the 1948 and 1967 wars and their descendants, is currently under investigation after Israel accused several of its members of taking part in Hamas’s October 7 onslaught on southern Israel, in which some 1,200 people were killed and 253 were taken hostage amid horrific atrocities including widespread gang rape, torture, and mutilation of victims, some of them children.

As a result of Israel’s accusation, multiple countries, including the US, UK, Germany, and Canada froze funding for the organization worth about $450 million, almost half its budget for the year. The investigation’s findings are expected to be published in late April, according to a Thursday update.

The 12 staffers at UNRWA alleged to have been involved in the October 7 onslaught. (Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Israel responded to the October 7 attack with a military campaign to topple the Hamas regime in Gaza, destroy the terror group, and free the hostages of whom over half remain in captivity.

The Israel-Hamas war has driven 80% of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million Palestinians from their homes, and UN officials say a quarter of the population is starving as access to the enclave is restricted. UNRWA is the main supplier of food, water, and shelter there, but it is on the brink of financial collapse.

Israel initially accused 12 UNRWA employees of participating in the Hamas attack, including one who was seen on CCTV abducting the body of an Israeli back to Gaza. Last week it released audio recordings incriminating two more UNRWA workers of allegedly joining in the assault.

UNRWA, which employs roughly 13,000 people in Gaza, is the biggest aid provider in the enclave.

Last week, the European Union said it would give 50 million euros ($54 million) to UNRWA after the agency agreed to allow EU-appointed experts to audit the way it screens staff to identify extremists. An additional 32 million euros is being withheld pending the completion of steps outlined by the EU, including the probes and the European audit.

Israel panned the EU move, with the Foreign Ministry saying, “The disappointing decision gives legitimacy to UNRWA employees’ involvement in terror activities and cooperation with Hamas.”

The ministry noted that the EU was reopening the spigot before a UN probe into the Israeli claims of UNRWA bias, and vowed to present donor countries and the UN investigators with all the information it has on the subject in the coming weeks.

A subterranean Hamas data center underneath UNRWA’s headquarters in Gaza City, February 8, 2024. (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)

Israel alleges that 450 UNRWA employees were members of terror groups in Gaza, though it has not provided the intelligence material it says shows that to be the case.

Philippe Lazzarini, the head of UNRWA, claimed Monday that he has “never been informed” or received any evidence of Israel’s claims. Every year, he said, UNRWA provides Israel and the Palestinian Authority with a list of its staff, “and I never have received the slightest concern about the staff that we have been employing.”

The only allegation communicated to him verbally was about the 12 UNRWA staffers alleged to have participated in the October 7 attack, he asserted, and they appeared so serious that they were fired.

UNRWA in a statement has accused Israel of detaining several of its staffers and forcing them, using torture and ill-treatment, into giving false confessions about the links between the agency, Hamas, and the October 7 attack. The Israel Defense Forces has said any mistreatment was “absolutely prohibited,” denied all allegations of sexual abuse, and said it was investigating any complaints of inappropriate behavior

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