Trudeau won’t say whether Canada will restore funding to UN aid agency in Gaza Strip


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did not say whether Canada intends to restore funding to a U.N. aid agency operating in the Gaza Strip.

“We will not be making any announcements today. But we will continue to ensure that 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 currently in the Middle East working with partners in the region and discussing how Canada can help.

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

Sixteen countries suspended payments to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency after Israel alleged that a dozen workers from the aid organization participated in the Hamas terrorist attack on October 7.

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

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

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

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

Canada has not missed any payments since announcing the pause in funding. His $25 million payment 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 release of its funding after reaching an agreement with the agency that includes allowing the EU to audit it.

International Development Minister Ahmed Hussen was due to present an update on the aid at a news conference on Wednesday morning, but it was abruptly canceled about 90 minutes before it was due to start.

A spokeswoman for Hussen would only say it was canceled for “logistical reasons.” She neither confirmed nor denied a CBC News report Tuesday night that Hussen was set to announce that UNRWA funding would flow as planned.

A pair of Liberal MPs who have been outspoken about the war between Israel and Hamas issued a joint statement Thursday recommending Canada maintain its pause on funding the agency.

“Given its history, we believe that UNRWA lacks sufficient governance and internal controls to ensure that humanitarian aid delivered by Canada reliably reaches those who truly need it and that there is a serious risk that funds will be misappropriated by Hamas.” , reads the document. Statement of Anthony Housefather and Marco Mendicino, former Minister of Public Security.

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

The war between Israel and Hamas has driven 80 percent of Gaza’s population, 2.3 million Palestinians, from their homes, and U.N. officials say a quarter of the population is starving because access to the enclave is restricted.

UNRWA is the main provider of food, water and shelter there, but is on the brink of financial collapse.

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

— With files from The Associated Press.

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