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Gaza: Canada suspends funding to a UN agency | Middle East, the ;éeternal conflict

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The agency, known by its acronym UNRWA, is the main organization providing aid to the population of Gaza in the context of the humanitarian disaster.

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Eight countries, including Canada , have “temporarily suspended” further funding to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) after accusations on Friday that 12 staff took part in Hamas attacks on October 7.

UNRWA Director Philippe Lazzarini said Friday he had terminated the contracts of several employees and ordered an investigation after Israel provided information that they played a role in the attack.

The US State Department said there were allegations against 12 people out of the agency's approximately 13,000 employees in Gaza.

It was the United States, the agency's largest donor – they provided it with $340 million in 2022 and several hundred million in 2023 – which got the ball rolling on Friday by announcing the suspension of their funding against UNRWA just minutes after Mr. Lazzarini's announcement.

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UNRWA Commissioner General, Philippe Lazzarini. (Archive photo)

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A few hours later, the United States was followed by Canada, Australia, Italy, the United Kingdom, Finland, the Netherlands and Germany. Switzerland, however, is waiting to have more information before making a decision on its aid to UNRWA.

The head of American diplomacy, Antony Blinken, spoke with the Secretary General of the UN, Antonio Guterres, to emphasize the need for a rapid and thorough investigation into this matter. p>

Canadian Federal Minister of International Development Ahmed Hussen said Canada would not reduce its support to the people of Gaza and would continue to work with other partners to provide vital assistance. /p>Open in full screen mode

Ahmed Hussen, Minister of International Development of Canada (File photo)

Canada takes these accusations extremely seriously and is closely involved with UNRWA and other donors on this issue, he wrote on the X platform.

If these accusations are proven, Canada expects UNRWA to take immediate action against those identified as having been involved in Hamas terrorist attacks.

A quote from Ahmed Hussen, Federal Minister of International Development

He clarified that Ottawa remains deeply concerned about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and continues to call for rapid, sustainable passage and unhindered from essential assistance.

For her part, Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said she was deeply concerned by the accusations against UNRWA. We are speaking with our partners and will temporarily suspend the payment of recent funding, she wrote on the social network X.

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Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong (File photo)

We welcome UNRWA's immediate response, including the termination of [staff] contracts as well as the announcement of an investigation into accusations against the organization, he said. -she continued.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Italian Republic, Antonio Tajani, for his part wrote on the X network that Italy is committed to providing humanitarian aid to the Palestinian population while protecting the security of Israel.

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Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani met with Lebanese caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati in Beirut, Lebanon, on January 24.

For its part, the Israeli Foreign Ministry has demanded a deep internal review of the activities of Hamas and other terrorist organizations within Israel. UNRWA.

As for Switzerland, it announced on Saturday that no decision concerning the payment of its aid to UNRWA will be taken until this question is clarified.

Switzerland has zero tolerance for any support for terrorism and for any call to hatred or incitement to violence. It expects the same intransigence from its partners, said the Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which clarified that Switzerland's annual contribution to UNRWA, which amounted to around $23 million in recent years , had yet to be approved for the year 2024.

UNRWA officials have not commented on the potential impact of the funding cutoff on its activities.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) was established in 1949 by the UN General Assembly after the first Arab-Israeli conflict, which broke out the day after the creation of Israel.

Between April and August 1948, when Israel was founded, more than 700,000 Palestinians were expelled or fled their lands, according to the ;UN. These people, as well as their descendants, have the status of refugees and UNRWA is the sole guarantor by default of their international status.

UNRWA's mandate is to provide humanitarian assistance and protection to registered Palestinian refugees in the Agency's area of ​​operations pending a just and lasting solution. to their situation.

UNRWA intervenes not only in the Palestinian territories but also in Lebanon, Jordan and Syria.

Some 5.9 million Palestinians are registered with UNRWA and can benefit from services that include education, health care, social services, camp infrastructure, microfinance and emergency assistance, including during periods of armed conflict.

There are a total of around sixty refugee camps managed by this UN agency, including 19 in the West Bank, a Palestinian territory occupied by Israel since 1967 .

More than 540,000 children study in UNRWA schools.

In a statement, Philippe Lazzarini called the allegations shocking and said that any employee involved in acts of terrorism [would] be held accountable, including through criminal prosecution. However, he did not specify the alleged role of staff members in the attacks.

To protect the Agency's ability to deliver humanitarian aid, I have decided to immediately terminate the contracts of these staff members and open an investigation, Mr. Lazzarini said. in a press release.

Any employee who has been involved in acts of terrorism will be held accountable, including through legal action, he added.

Hamas, for its part, asked in a statement to the United Nations and international organizations not to give in to threats and blackmail, accusing Israel of wanting to cut off funds and deprive Gazans of any international aid.

Palestinian Authority Civil Affairs Minister Hussein Al-Sheikh has urged countries withdrawing support from UNRWA to immediately reverse their decision. The Agency, he insisted, needs maximum support […] and not that support and assistance be cut off.

Contacted by AFP, Johann Soufi, international lawyer and former director of the UNRWA legal office in Gaza, defended the policy of zero tolerance for violence and #x27;Incitement to hatred of the Agency.

He added that sanctioning UNRWA, which has difficulty keeping the entire population of Gaza alive, for the alleged responsibility of a few employees amounts to collectively punishing the Gazan population, which lives in catastrophic humanitarian conditions.

With information from Agence France-Presse, Associated Press and La Presse canadienne

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