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Aid for Palestinian refugees  Hussein says that Washington appealed to Ottawa not to abandon UNRWA

Aid for Palestinian refugees Hussein says that Washington appealed to Ottawa not to abandon UNRWA

(Ottawa) The US ambassador to the United Nations appealed to Canada last month to continue funding the UN agency that helps the Palestinians, says International Development Minister Ahmed Hussein.

Last January, Canada was one of 16 countries that suspended funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (“UNRWA”). Israel subsequently confirmed that ten UN agency employees participated in Hamas attacks on Israeli territory on October 7.

But earlier this month, Minister Hussein announced that Ottawa would finally make the scheduled April payment to UNRWA, after Canada gained access to an interim report on the Israeli allegations.

This decision came about two weeks after a meeting between Minister Hussein and the US envoy to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield. The Canadian minister says that the American ambassador at the time urged Ottawa “not to withdraw from UNRWA.”

Photography by Andrew Kelly, Reuters

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US envoy to the United Nations

The minister said in a recent interview with La Canadien Presse newspaper: “She appealed to us to continue cooperation with UNRWA and provide it with the support it needs, in appreciation of the lifeline that UNRWA provides to the Palestinians.”

It was not possible to obtain comments from the American authorities on Minister Hussein's statements.

The United States has been a major donor to UNRWA for many years. Washington paid $343 million to the agency in 2022. But after Israeli allegations, the Americans withdrew their funding on January 26.

Hussain says Canada made the decision to move forward with the $25 million, due in April, because of reforms and increased accountability within the agency.

He also said that this decision was taken because the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip is worsening day by day and there is an urgent need for humanitarian aid. Mr. Hussein explained that UNRWA is the “backbone” of aid in the region.

The European Union, Australia, Sweden, Finland and Iceland have also restored at least some of their funding to UNRWA, but many of its largest donors, including the United States, have yet to do so.

On Tuesday, Germany pledged new funding for the agency's work in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the West Bank, but its aid to UNRWA in Gaza remains suspended.

Last week, the United States extended its funding halt for at least another year, after Congress approved a spending package that helped avoid a “shutdown” of the US government. Republicans have defended the measure to cut aid.

The White House has said in principle that it supports UNRWA's work. In mid-February, President Joe Biden's administration indicated it was in discussions with allies to keep humanitarian aid flowing.

“The situation is frustrating”

Hussein said Ottawa is increasingly concerned about “the lack of sufficient access” to get aid into the Gaza Strip, especially in the north, where authorities say famine is imminent.

Photography by Mahmoud Issa, Reuters archive

Palestinians gather to receive aid outside an UNRWA warehouse, as Gazans face looming famine.

He said he raised the need for more entry points into the territory with Israel's ambassador to Canada, as Foreign Minister Melanie Jolie and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did with other Israeli officials.

Minister Hussein added that the situation is “extremely frustrating” for humanitarian groups and Canada, noting that the number of trucks that passed during the months of January and February was less than what they passed in November and December.

UNRWA said that in the first 23 days of March, an average of 157 aid trucks entered Gaza daily – far short of the target of 500 trucks.

Meanwhile, Canada and its partners began funding airdrops of aid in early March.

The Jordanian Air Force is leading this initiative, which includes Canadian contributions in the form of food supplies, medical supplies, blankets and winter clothing, in addition to 300 parachutes.

Canada is also working with international partners to provide assistance in establishing a “temporary port” that the United States is helping to build. President Biden announced the project in his State of the Union Address earlier this month.

Minister Hussein pointed out that airdrops and sea routes do not constitute an alternative to transporting aid across land borders.

“The humanitarian situation is extremely dire. In parts of Gaza, we face the risk of mass starvation and famine-like conditions.”

Canada also continues to demand a humanitarian ceasefire and the release of all Israeli hostages held by Hamas.

With information from the Associated Press.

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