Stockholm: UNRWA agreed to allow controls, independent audits

Canada, Sweden resume UNRWA funding after pause over terror allegations against staff

Ottawa says UN Palestinian refugee agency ‘plays vital role in Gaza,’ vows to continue treating accusations some employees were involved in Oct. 7 attack ‘extremely seriously’

A Palestinian man transports sacks of humanitarian aid at the UNRWA distribution center in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on March 3, 2024. (AFP)
A Palestinian man transports sacks of humanitarian aid at the UNRWA distribution center in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on March 3, 2024. (AFP)

Canada and Sweden announced they will resume funding to the UN Palestinian refugee agency, after receiving assurances of extra checks on its spending and personnel and while still taking terror allegations against staff members seriously.

Ottawa paused funding on January 26 after Israel alleged some of the staff at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) agency were involved in the Hamas-led October 7 onslaught.

“Canada will be lifting its temporary pause on funding to [UNRWA],” Canadian International Aid Minister Ahmed Hussen said in a Friday statement but did not say exactly when this would happen. “UNRWA plays a vital role in Gaza.”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Thursday that Ottawa was waiting for the results of an internal United Nations probe into the Israeli accusations that 12 UNRWA staff — including one who was seen on CCTV abducting the body of an Israeli — took part in the onslaught in which Palestinian terrorists killed some 1,200 people and kidnapped 253, sparking Israel’s ongoing military offensive against Hamas in Gaza.

A total of 16 donors, including the United States and Britain, paused their funding to UNRWA.

After the accusations, the UN fired the accused employees who were still alive and launched an internal investigation. Israel has since further alleged that 450 UNRWA employees were members of terror groups in Gaza and last week released audio recordings incriminating two more agency employees of allegedly joining in the assault.

Israeli soldiers take position as they enter UNRWA headquarters in Gaza City where the military discovered tunnels and a secret data center underneath the UN agency, February 8, 2024. (AP/Ariel Schalit)

Hussen said Canada had reviewed the interim report of the UN investigation and would examine the final version.

“Canada is resuming its funding to UNRWA so more can be done to respond to the urgent needs of Palestinian civilians. Canada will continue to take the allegations against some of UNRWA’s staff extremely seriously and we will remain closely engaged with UNRWA and the UN to pursue accountability and reform,” he said.

Hussen was set to announce the decision on Wednesday but delayed it until Friday, for reasons that were not immediately clear.

The Canadian government is due to contribute C$25 million ($19 million) to UNRWA in April and did not miss a payment as a result of the pause.

Canada will also send C$100,000 ($74,000) to the Jordan Hashemite Charity Organization for supplies including food and blankets to be delivered to the territory. The Canadian military will also send 300 cargo parachutes to Jordan to help with airdrops of critical supplies.

File: Housing and Diversity and Inclusion Minister Ahmed Hussen rises during Question Period, in Ottawa, Ontario, April 28, 2022. Ahmed, who is now Canada’s Minister of International Development, said Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024, that Canada is working to airdrop humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip as soon as possible. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press via AP)

Sweden said Saturday it too was resuming aid to the cash-strapped UN agency for Palestinians with an initial disbursement of $20 million after receiving assurances of extra checks on its spending and personnel.

“The government has allocated 400 million kronor to UNRWA for the year 2024. Today’s decision concerns a first payment of 200 million kronor,” the Swedish government said in a statement.

It said that to unblock the aid, UNRWA had agreed to “allow controls, independent audits, to strengthen internal supervision and extra controls of personnel.”

Israel on Saturday condemned Canada and Sweden for resuming their funding to UNRWA, saying decisions to do so “after having received the intelligence-based information about [UNRWA’s] employees who participated in the 7 October massacre and prior to the completion of the work of the investigative bodies and the publication of their findings is a serious mistake that constitutes tacit agreement and support by [Ottawa and Stockholm] to ignoring the involvement of UNRWA employees in terrorist activity.”

The statement from Israel’ Foreign Ministry appeared to be part of a mixed messaging campaign, though, given that a senior Israeli official reached out The Times of Israel to assert that Jerusalem opposes dissolving UNRWA mid-war in an apparent effort to warn countries not to permanently sever their funding.

Two UN investigations into Israel’s allegations were already underway when the European Union said last Friday it will 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. Israel panned the EU move as well.

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