Harper Denies Canada Agreed to Take In Palestinian Refugees

YERUSHALAYIM -

Prime Minister Stephen Harper denied on Monday an Israel Radio report that Canada had agreed to absorb refugees from neighboring Arab countries as part of a final status peace agreement with Israel, The Jerusalem Post reported.

Following a meeting with Harper in Ramallah, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas confirmed that no discussions have taken place with Ottawa regarding the relocation of refugees, though he did say that Canada “may play a role” if and when such an agreement is reached.

Earlier Monday, Israel Radio quoted the Arab-language daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi that the Palestinians expected Harper to give assurances to the PA that Canada will share in the absorption of refugees.

The Arab media has been carrying various reports in recent days that Secretary of State John Kerry has proposed that Palestinian refugees be relocated to either Canada or Australia.

Also while in Ramallah, Harper announced a new $66 million aid program for the Palestinian Authority, to “help advance the peace process, promote security and deliver humanitarian assistance.”

Canada has provided more than $650 million in assistance to the Palestinians since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993.

Answering criticism of a pro-Israel bias, Harper told reporters that “Canada is a strong supporter of the peace process. Our position is not an Israeli position or a Palestinian position. It is a Canadian position of principle supported by the overwhelming majority of Canadians.”

Earlier in the day, the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate called on its members to boycott Harper’s visit. That was prompted by a clash between Palestinian reporters and photographers with Harper’s bodyguards.

The group demanded an “official apology” from Harper for alleged manhandling by his guards of the Palestinians.