OTTAWA – Canada is joining the United States in suspending funding for a UN agency that supports Palestinians, in response to allegations agency staff played a role in the Hamas attack on Israel last October.
Ottawa has ordered a temporary pause on “any additional funding” for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.
The director for the agency known as UNWRA says it has terminated staff suspected of involvement in the Hamas attack, without sharing what role they may have played.
The U.S. State Department says it believes 12 staff are facing accusations of involvement.
International Development Minister Ahmed Hussen says Canada will channel humanitarian aid for Palestinians in Gaza through other agencies until the investigation is done.
He says UNRWA must take action against any of its staff who are proven to have played a role in the attacks.
“Canada is taking these reports extremely seriously and is engaging closely with UNRWA and other donors on this issue,” he said in a statement late Friday afternoon.
The UN agency says 153 of its staff have died during the Israel-Hamas war, and roughly 13,000 staff are still trying to deliver aid in the Gaza Strip.
The war began Hamas militants killed around 1,200 people and took about 250 hostages on Oct. 7.
In retaliation, Israel launched a military campaign in the Gaza Strip that the Hamas-run Health Ministry says has killed more than 26,000 people, including militants.
Israel is tightly controlling entry points into Gaza and restricting supplies, making it difficult for humanitarian aid to get inside.
Last November, Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly praised the agency for providing the essentials of life in Gaza, noting it’s “the only organization able to concretely do this” and that Canada is “a significant donor” to the agency.
At the time, Global Affairs Canada noted that Canada’s funding for UNRWA work in Gaza is not just for humanitarian relief.
The money was also aimed at helping “identify, monitor and follow up on neutrality violations” within the organization and boosting “transparency and accountability of UNRWA‘s approach to humanitarian principles,” the department said.
Jewish groups and past Canadian governments have taken UNRWA to task over social-media statements by the agency’s staff that they argue don’t uphold neutrality.
They have also voiced concerns that UN aid could be diverted to Hamas, which Canada and others deem a terrorist organization.
Former prime minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government cut off Canadian funding for UNWRA in 2010, amid allegations it was too closely tied to Hamas.
Funding resumed under the federal Liberals in 2016.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2024.
– With files from The Associated Press.