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Canada pledges $38m for Palestinian refugees

Aid will be disbursed over two years to UNRWA, which has suffered from Trump administration funding cuts
UNRWA services include education, health care and food assistance (AFP)

Canada has increased its aid for Palestinian refugees, pledging $38m to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), whose work has suffered amid recent funding cuts from Washington.

The Canadian boost, announced on Friday, comes after the United States, previously the largest contributor to UNRWA, announced in August that it would no longer provide $350m annually to the group.

To be spread over two years, about $30m of Canada's contribution will go to "meeting the basic education, health and livelihood needs of millions of Palestinian refugees," Ottawa said in a statement.

Another $7.6m will be used to provide "emergency life-saving assistance to more than 460,000 Palestinian refugees in Syria and Lebanon," it said.

In 2016, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberal government restored cuts to Palestinian aid made by his right-wing predecessor, Stephen Harper.

UNRWA was set up in 1950 to help more 700,000 Palestinian refugees who had been displaced in the events leading up to the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948.

It currently serves almost five million refugees, including survivors of the 1948 conflict and their descendants, who still live in impoverished camps in neighbouring Arab countries as well as in the West Bank and Gaza. Its services include schools, health-care centres and food distribution.

Israel and US President Donald Trump say they oppose the way the agency operates and how the number of refugees is calculated.

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Canada said it "exercises enhanced due diligence" for all aid it provides to Palestinians and includes "strong anti-terrorism provisions in funding agreements".

Trudeau's decision to bolster aid for UNRWA comes in defiance of the country's Conservative Party, which has been calling for an end to Canadian assistance to the agency.

When Trudeau restored Harper's UNWRA cuts in 2016, Conservative MP Peter Kent said he was "horrified," CBC News reported.

"We have abundant evidence that UNRWA is part of the problem," Kent said at the time.

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