Canada, Sweden Resume UNRWA Funding; CIA Chief Meets Mossad Head for Talks

Loay Ayyoub for The Washington Post
A Palestinian looks at a damaged al-Masry Tower on Saturday after an Israeli strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip.

Sweden and Canada are resuming funding to the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, weeks after the embattled agency faced explosive allegations of ties with Hamas that led to more than a dozen countries pausing payments.

Sweden said Saturday it was making an initial payment of 200 million kronor ($20 million) to UNRWA, having received additional assurances, including independent auditing, strengthened internal supervision and staff checks, from the agency.

“The humanitarian situation in Gaza is devastating and the needs are acute,” Johan Forssell, Sweden’s international development minster, said in a statement Saturday. “We will monitor closely to ensure UNRWA follows through on what it has promised.”

Canada also announced it would be lifting its “temporary pause on funding” to UNRWA, stating Friday that it was “deeply concerned by the catastrophic humanitarian situation in Gaza that is worsening by the hour.”

Earlier this week, UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini warned that the agency was “at a breaking point” after several countries, including the United States, suspended funding. The agency also reported Friday that 162 staff members have been killed since the war in Gaza began, calling it the highest number of U.N. team members ever killed in any conflict or natural disaster.

U.N. officials have warned that more than a quarter of Gaza’s population is on the brink of famine, and several countries, including the United States, have resorted to air dropping aid into the besieged enclave. The Biden administration has also announced plans to build a temporary pier off Gaza’s coastline to enable scaled-up aid deliveries by sea.

The U.S. military conducted another airdrop of aid into northern Gaza on Saturday, Central Command said in a statement, adding that C-130 aircraft delivered more than 41,000 ready-to-eat meals and 23,000 bottles of water.

The delivery came as Gaza’s Health Ministry said the death toll from malnutrition and dehydration in the territory had risen to 25. At least 30,960 people have been killed and 72,524 injured in Gaza since the war began, according to the ministry, which does not distinguish between civilians and combatants.

Israel on Saturday said that the head of its Mossad intelligence agency, David Barnea, met with CIA Director William J. Burns the day before to discuss a potential hostage deal that would also see at least a temporary cease-fire.

In a statement, the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the talks are ongoing but blamed Hamas for recent delays, saying the militant group that once controlled Gaza is “not interested” in a deal ahead of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

“It’s looking tough,” President Biden said Friday when asked by a reporter if there would be a cease-fire by Ramadan, which begins Sunday.

Here’s what else to know

– A strike hit Rafah’s tallest building overnight, causing significant damage. Al-Masry Tower is a 14-floor residential building, considered the tallest and oldest tower in Rafah and built in the 1990s. There were no immediate reports of casualties, and a Washington Post photographer at the scene said residents had been told to evacuate before the strike. The Israel Defense Forces said it had “precisely targeted a military asset” in Rafah, which it claimed was used by Hamas, emphasizing that “noncombatants in the area were evacuated before the strike was carried out.”

– The Pentagon said constructing an offshore pier and causeway off Gaza could take as long as 60 days and require about 1,000 U.S. troops. The temporary pier, which Biden announced Thursday, is intended to enable the delivery of 2 million meals daily to Gaza, which has been under an Israeli maritime blockade since 2007. Aid groups have warned that the pier is no substitute for aid deliveries by land, and urged Israel to reopen its land border crossings with Gaza.

– Five people were killed Friday after an apparent parachute malfunction during an aid airdrop caused a loaded crate to fall on people, according to a civil defense spokesman in Gaza. Several countries have airdropped aid to Gaza in recent weeks, including the United States. U.S. Central Command said Friday that it was “aware of reports of civilians killed as a result of humanitarian airdrops” and that the incident was not the result of U.S. airdrops.

– Centcom said early Saturday that the Houthis conducted a “large-scale” drone attack into the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. American and coalition forces in the region shot down 15 one-way attack drones, Centcom said. The Houthis have been targeting vessels in the waterway in protest of Israel’s military campaign in Gaza, upending global shipping routes.