Israel says Canada, Sweden wrong to resume UNRWA funding

Israel says Canada, Sweden wrong to resume UNRWA funding
Israel says Canada, Sweden wrong to resume UNRWA funding

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - Palestinian children receive cooked food rations as part of a volunteer youth initiative in Rafah. — AFP pic

JERUSALEM, March 10 — Israel yesterday slammed Canada and Sweden for resuming aid to the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, reiterating claims that UNRWA staff in Gaza were involved in “terrorist activity”.

Supporting UNRWA, which has been central to humanitarian efforts in the war-ravaged Gaza Strip, was a “serious mistake”, the Israeli foreign ministry said in a statement.

Canada and Sweden announced over the weekend they were resuming funding for the cash-strapped UN agency, weeks after having suspended it over Israeli accusations that several UNRWA employees were involved in the Hamas attack that triggered the ongoing war.

Israel’s foreign ministry called on both governments to cut funding and “not support an organisation whose ranks include hundreds of members of the Hamas terrorist organisation”.

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The renewed aid, according to the Israeli statement, showed that Canada and Sweden had chosen “to ignore the involvement of UNRWA employees in terrorist activity”.

On Saturday, Sweden announced an initial disbursement of US$20 million after receiving assurances of extra checks on UNRWA’s spending and personnel.

Canada said Friday that it would resume funding to UNRWA “because of the dire humanitarian situation on the ground”, but did not elaborate.

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Some 15 countries, including the United States, Britain, Germany and Japan, suspended funding to UNRWA in late January following Israel’s accusations.

The agency’s chief, Philippe Lazzarini, told Swiss broadcaster RTS on Saturday he was “cautiously optimistic” more countries would resume their funding “in the coming weeks”.

“I think a certain number of countries in the Gulf are going to in fact increase their contributions to the agency,” Lazzarini added.

“Today I am having to manage an existential crisis for our agency in a region going through a seismic crisis that will certainly have consequences for decades to come,” he said.

“The agency is at risk of death, at risk of being shut down.”

UNRWA employs around 30,000 people in the occupied Palestinian territories, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria, with about 13,000 staff in Gaza.

Israel has accused about a dozen UNRWA employees of taking part in the Hamas attack.

The agency has said some of its Gaza staff detained by Israeli authorities during the war recounted abuse in custody.

The European Commission said earlier this month that it would release 50 million euros ($55 million) in UNRWA funding.

The agency’s work has become crucial in Gaza, where the United Nations has warned repeatedly of looming famine after more than five months of fighting.

Hamas’s October 7 attack on southern Israel resulted in about 1,160 deaths, most of them civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official figures.

Israel’s retaliatory military campaign has killed at least 30,960 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-ruled territory’s health ministry. — AFP

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