Canada, Sweden Restore Funding for UN Agency Facing Claims of Hamas Infiltration

Canada, Sweden Restore Funding for UN Agency Facing Claims of Hamas Infiltration
Tents for Palestinians seeking refuge are set up on the grounds of a United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) centre in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on Oct. 19, 2023. (Mahmud Hams/AFP via Getty Images)

Canada and Sweden are restarting financial support for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), reversing a decision to pause payments after the Israeli government accused members of that U.N. agency of supporting the Hamas terrorist group.

UNRWA was established in 1949 to provide humanitarian assistance to Palestinian refugees displaced in the Arab–Israeli conflict and the founding of the state of Israel in 1948. The U.N. agency serves as one of the primary support systems for Palestinians living in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and the territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The agency derives much of its funding through support from U.N. member nations, though it also derives funding from non-governmental organizations and individual donors.

In January, Israeli officials raised allegations that several UNRWA employees may have participated in Hamas attacks in southern Israel on Oct. 7. Israeli officials further alleged dozens more agency employees had expressed support for Hamas, which is designated a terrorist group by the state of Israel, the United States, and several other countries but not by the United Nations.

The United Nations ordered an investigation into its Palestinian relief agency following the Israeli allegations.

Canada and Sweden were among several nations that halted payments in support of UNRWA as the allegations emerged. Other nations to pause payments to the U.N. agency included the United States, Australia, Austria, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Romania, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

On Friday, Canadian Minister of International Development Ahmed Hussen and Canada’s Global Affairs department announced Canada would resume financial support for UNRWA after having reviewed an interim report from the U.N. Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) regarding the allegations of UNRWA employees supporting Hamas.

“The decision is in recognition of the serious and significant processes that the United Nations has undertaken to address the issues in UNRWA and the recognition of the critical role that UNRWA plays in providing much-needed support to over 2 million Palestinians in Gaza as well as the broader region,” Mr. Hussen said.

Sweden’s Foreign Ministry announced a similar decision to resume support for UNRWA on Saturday. The Swedish government had previously allocated 400 million Krona (about $39 million) to UNRWA through 2024. Saturday’s decision entails an initial disbursement of 200 million Swedish Kronas, with additional disbursements to follow this year if UNRWA makes efforts to strengthen oversight mechanisms.

“The humanitarian situation in Gaza is devastating and the needs are acute. We have already increased humanitarian support and are now issuing an initial disbursement to UNRWA following its written assurances directly to Sweden concerning increased transparency and stricter procedures,” Swedish Minister for International Development Johan Forssell said Saturday. “We will monitor closely to ensure UNRWA follows through on what it has promised.”

Heightened Humanitarian Concerns

The moves by Canada and Sweden to restore funding to UNRWA come amid heightened concerns about humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip, as Israel’s war against Hamas stretches into its fifth month.

It remains difficult to independently verify the toll the ongoing war has had on Gaza’s civilian population.

The Gaza Health Ministry, a government ministry operating under the auspices of Hamas’s political control of the Gaza Strip, estimates more than 31,000 people have been killed in the embattled Palestinian territory since Oct. 7. The Gaza Health Ministry does not differentiate combatants and non-combatants when assessing these casualty figures. The Gaza Health Ministry estimates more than 72,000 others have been injured in the fighting.

The United Nations estimates as many as 1.9 million more Gaza residents are internally displaced within the territory amid the ongoing fighting.

Efforts to bring humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip have also met with setbacks.

As many as 118 Palestinians were killed and several hundred more were injured in an incident on the morning of Feb. 29 as crowds rushed an aid convoy in northern Gaza. Israel Defense Forces (IDF) officials say Israeli troops operating near the aid convoy observed many people being trampled in the crowd or run over as they rushed vehicles carrying aid and that some IDF soldiers fired warning shots in an attempt to disperse the crowd. Other sources have alleged IDF soldiers fired on the crowds directly, and area doctors told the Associated Press they took in dozens of patients with gunshot wounds following the Feb. 29 incident.

Several countries have been air-dropping aid to the Gaza Strip. President Joe Biden ordered the U.S. military to join in these air-dropped aid deliveries following the Feb. 29 mass casualty incident. During his State of the Union address last week, President Biden also announced the U.S. military would work to open a sea corridor for new aid deliveries.

Israel Urges Countries to Refreeze UNRWA Support

The move by the Canadian and Swedish governments to restore aid for UNRWA has raised some alarm in Israel.

In a statement in Hebrew on Saturday, the Israeli Foreign Ministry said the governments in Ottawa and Stockholm were making a serious mistake, and described their moves to restore funding to the UNRWA as a tacit plan to ignore indications members of the U.N. agency are involved in terrorism.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry urged the governments of Canada and Sweden to pause their support for UNRWA once again.

UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini has separately expressed cautious optimism that other countries will follow Canada and Sweden to restore funding for the U.N. agency.

Former French Foreign Minister Catherina Colonna arrived in Israel on Monday to conduct an independent review into the allegations of UNRWA ties with Hamas.

In an interview with Swiss broadcaster RTS on Saturday, Mr. Lazzarini said, “I am cautiously optimistic that within the next few weeks, and also following the publication of Catherine Colonna’s report, a number of donors will return.”

Reuters contributed to this article.

ntd newsletter icon
Sign up for NTD Daily
What you need to know, summarized in one email.
Stay informed with accurate news you can trust.
By registering for the newsletter, you agree to the Privacy Policy.