Trudeau won’t say if Canada will restore funding to UN relief agency in Gaza Strip

Trudeau won't say if Canada will restore funding to UN relief agency in Gaza Strip
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is silhouetted as he speaks to the press during an announcement at Women’s College Hospital, in Toronto, Thursday, March 7, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau won’t say whether Canada intends to restore funding to a UN relief agency operating in the Gaza Strip.

“We’re not making any announcements today. But we will continue to make sure Canada does the right thing in this situation and puts the protection of civilian life at the forefront of everything we do,” he told reporters at a news conference Thursday.

Trudeau added that ministers are in the Middle East right now working with partners in the region and discussing how Canada can help.

The prime minister said Canada needs to get more aid into Gaza and has been discussing the possibility of airlifting aid in.

Sixteen countries paused payments to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency after Israel alleged that a dozen of the aid organization’s workers participated in the Hamas terrorist attack on Oct. 7.

That day, militants killed about 1,200 people in southern Israel and took another roughly 250 hostage, triggering a devastating war.

Authorities in the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by Hamas, say more than 30,000 Palestinians have been killed in the Israeli military response.

UNRWA is the primary provider of social and humanitarian assistance in the territory, including health care and education. It relies almost exclusively on donations from UN member countries.

A senior government source told The Canadian Press on Wednesday that a final decision has not yet been made on restoring funding to the agency. The source spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the talks.

Canada has not missed a payment since announcing the pause in funding. Its payment of $25 million for this year isn’t due until April.

Canada’s discussions come after the European Union opted late last week to proceed with a partial delivery of its funding after reaching an agreement with the agency that includes allowing the EU to audit it.

Israel ramped up its criticism of the embattled UN agency on Monday, saying 450 of its employees were members of militant groups in the Gaza Strip, though it provided no evidence to back up its accusation.

The Israel-Hamas war has driven 80 per cent 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.

By Nojoud Al Mallees.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 7, 2024.

— With files from The Associated Press.

The Canadian PressThe Canadian Press

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