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UNRWA: Sweden and Canada resume funding for UN Palestinian aid agency

Workers of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees distribute sweets to children at an UNRWA school in Rafah (AFP via Getty Images)
Workers of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees distribute sweets to children at an UNRWA school in Rafah (AFP via Getty Images)

Both Sweden and Canada have said they will resume payments to UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.

The countries were among the 16 which paused funding after Israel alleged some of its staff took part in the deadly October 7 attack by Hamas, which killed more than 1,100 people.

Sweden said on Saturday it would send 200 million kronor (£15m) initially, after UNRWA agreed to strengthen internal controls and to do extra checks on its employees.

“The government has allocated 400 million kronor to UNRWA for the year 2024. Today's decision concerns a first payment of 200 million kronor," the country’s government said in a statement.

The Canadian government said on Friday that it would continue funding the organisation while investigations continue.

An independent review of the UNRWA has been launched under French former foreign minister Catherine Colonna, and the final report is expected to be published next month.

“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," UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini said in an interview on Saturday.

He warned that the organisation was at “risk of death, at risk of dismantlement."

UNRWA provides aid and essential services to Palestinian refugees in Gaza, the Israeli-occupied West Bank and across the region.

However, it has been in crisis since Israel accused 12 of its 13,000 staff in Gaza of involvement in the October 7 attack on Israel that triggered the war in the Palestinian enclave.

The allegations prompted several countries, including the United States, to pause funding.

When the allegations emerged, UNRWA fired some staff members, saying it acted to protect the agency's ability to deliver humanitarian assistance, and an independent internal UN investigation was launched.

UNRWA said some employees released into Gaza from Israeli detention reported having been pressured by Israeli authorities into falsely stating that staff took part in the attack, according to a report by the agency dated February.

The UN has said some 3,000 members of staff are still working to deliver aid in the enclave, where it says 576,000 people - one quarter of the population - are a step away from famine.

On Friday the EU, UK, and US said they planned to open a sea route to Gaza to deliver aid.