Canada sends $40M for Palestinians in Gaza, as Liberal MP decries UNRWA freeze

Canada sends $40M for Palestinians in Gaza, as Liberal MP decries UNRWA freeze
THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Fatima Shbair
Canada is sending another $40 million in aid to organizations that are helping Palestinians in Gaza after pausing funding to the UN's relief agency in the region. Palestinians arrive in the southern Gaza town of Rafah after fleeing an Israeli ground and air offensive in the nearby city of Khan Younis on Monday, Jan. 29, 2024.

Canada is sending another $40 million in aid to organizations that are helping people in the Gaza Strip after pausing funding to the UN’s relief agency for Palestinians — with one Liberal MP saying it’s doubtful other groups will be as effective.

The funding top-up, bringing the total commitment to $100 million, comes as Ottawa condemns what it calls “inflammatory rhetoric” from Israeli government officials about the forced displacement of those who live in the besieged territory.

“Throughout this conflict, we have centred our decisions on the lives of innocent civilians in this conflict,” International Development Minister Ahmed Hussen said Tuesday.

“This is a demonstration of Canada’s commitment.”

The bulk of the new funding will go to the World Food Program, UNICEF, the World Health Organization, the UN Population Fund, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Some $5 million has been set aside for Canadian non-governmental organizations.

Last week, Canada suspended “additional funding” to a UN agency that supports Palestinians in Gaza and employs about 13,000 people there.

The move was in response to allegations that some staff of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, known as UNRWA, played a role in the Hamas attack in Israel on Oct. 7.

That day, militants killed about 1,200 people and took another 250 hostage, provoking a massive military response by Israel in Gaza. It’s believed that about 100 hostages are still alive and being held there.

The Hamas-controlled health ministry in the territory says more than 26,000 Palestinians have been killed, including militants.

When the agency’s director fired nine staff members suspected of being involved in the Hamas attack, there was an immediate international outcry. The UN condemned what it called the “abhorrent alleged acts” and the United States suspended its own funding.

An Israeli document detailing the allegations was obtained Monday by The Associated Press. It said seven UNRWA employees stormed into Israel, one took part in a kidnapping and another helped steal a soldier’s body. Three others are also accused of taking part in the attacks.

Ten were listed as having ties to Hamas and one to the Islamic Jihad militant group, AP reported. Two of the 12 have been killed, according to the document. The UN previously said one person was still being identified.

The allegations could not be independently confirmed.

Hussen wouldn’t say whether the $40 million announced Tuesday was money that would have gone to UNRWA, nor would he answer questions about when Canada last provided funding to the agency.

In the past, “the money for Gaza has been dispersed through UNRWA and they’ve used it to deliver the much-needed humanitarian aid,” he said. Long-term support for the agency will be affected by the pause, Hussen added.

UNRWA has said it will be forced to stop operations by the end of February if funding from major donors is not restored. Since the war started, most of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents have relied on the agency’s programs for basic survival.

Liberal MP Salma Zahid said her government’s policy amounts to “collective punishment” of Palestinians, and that it’s “unacceptable to tarnish the whole organization” over allegations involving a few of its employees.

“It is unacceptable to suspend humanitarian funding in the middle of a crisis to the only organization able to effectively deliver humanitarian support to those in need,” she said on social media.

A coalition of 20 aid groups, including the Norwegian Refugee Council, Oxfam and Save the Children, also called for funding to be restored, saying UNRWA’s delivery of humanitarian assistance cannot be replaced.

“Canada will continue to work with (UNRWA) and other donors to support the investigation into the serious and deeply concerning allegations, while maintaining our commitment to helping the most vulnerable Palestinian civilians in the region,” Global Affairs Canada said in a statement.

The statement also called for a humanitarian ceasefire to allow more aid to enter the Gaza Strip and reiterated Canada’s call for a two-state solution in the region, which includes the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

In a social-media post on Tuesday, the department followed the U.S., the United Kingdom and France in voicing Canada’s concern over calls for Palestinians to be expelled from the Gaza Strip so that Israelis can settle there.

“Canada rejects any proposal that calls for the forced displacement of Palestinians from Gaza and the establishment of additional settlements,” it said.

“Such inflammatory rhetoric undermines prospects for lasting peace.”

On Sunday in Jerusalem, far-right lawmakers who are part of Israel’s governing coalition joined a conference calling for renewing Jewish settlement in Gaza.

Israel had evacuated its settlements there in 2005, ending a 38-year-occupation and withdrawing its troops.

At the conference, crowds chanted “death to terrorists” as far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir took the stage and declared it was “time to encourage” the emigration of Palestinians from Gaza.

Canada and its peers have said they will oppose any attempts to expel Palestinians from Gaza, and the international community overwhelmingly considers Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian territories to be illegal.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that such views do not reflect official policy and he has no plans to resettle Gaza, but he has released few details of a postwar vision for the territory.

Last week, the International Court of Justice issued a preliminary ruling on South Africa’s genocide allegation against Israel.

Canada has been much vaguer than many of its allies in responding to the case, saying that it supports the court but might not be supportive of the premise of South Africa’s case.

Foreign Affairs Minister MĂ©lanie Joly’s statement after the ruling did not say whether Ottawa wants Israel to abide by six interim orders, which include preserving evidence in case genocide is later found to have occurred and cracking down on statements that might incite genocide.

Though the Liberal government has not explicitly said that it believes Israel must abide by the court’s decisions, Justice Minister Arif Virani implied as much on Tuesday.

“I stand by what we’ve been saying as a government all along, which is that we believe in the ICJ,” Virani told reporters on Parliament Hill.

“You heard the prime minister and Minister Joly talk about the fact that when you’re supporting that institution, you need to be abiding by the decisions that are being rendered.”

The offices of Joly and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did not respond when asked whether Virani is accurately portraying their views.

Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 30, 2024.

— With files from The Associated Press

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