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Israeli centrist leader finds himself alone in battle against UN agency

In an interview with Al-Monitor, Yesh Atid Leader Yair Lapid expressed surprise that his government is cooperating with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, while the rest of the Israeli political establishment is reluctant to disrupt the aid that keeps Gaza afloat.
Palestinian policemen loyal to Hamas guard outside the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) headquarters during a protest demanding to resume financial aid for refugees, in Gaza City April 15, 2013. Robert Turner, UNRWA's director of Gaza operations, said the agency faced a $68 million shortfall in 2013 and that it had decided to cut a $40 annual handout to 106,000 Gaza refugees to save some $5.5 million. To soften the blow, the agency offered job programmes to help the poorest families. REUTERS/M

Over the past few weeks, reports have reached Israel that the new Canadian government is planning to renew its support for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. The UNRWA helps Palestinian refugees throughout the Middle East, with special emphasis on those in the refugee camps of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who was particularly supportive of Israel, the Canadians suspended their support for UNRWA. Jerusalem has now learned that Canada is about to restore its financial aid to the UN agency, if cautiously, by helping to fund special projects rather than providing regular support for the organization at large.

Former Finance Minister Yair Lapid, the chairman of Yesh Atid, was exasperated by the news. The man considered the strongest candidate to one day succeed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been waging an all-out war against UNRWA and various other international aid organizations and institutions. He calls UNRWA anti-Semitic and says that it has been causing profound damage to Israel.

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