Washington threatens to cut $100 million from aid funds given to Strip over Hamas audits of Gaza-based US-backed charity groups
The State Department has reportedly sent a warning to Hamas leaders in Gaza that it would withdraw $100 million of its Gaza funds unless they relent in their demands to audit American-financed charities operating in the Strip, Ynet learned on Friday. US funds funneled to Gaza through these groups mostly finance health care, agriculture and water infrastructure.
According to the New York Times, the harsh message was delivered through a third party and came after Hamas officials suspended International Medical Corps operation in Gaza earlier this week, for refusing to submit to Hamas inspection of their offices. Hamas’s relations with the foreign Gaza-based NGOs, and particularly with US-backed ones, had been discordant for several months, as Gaza's rulers aim to increase their supervision of foreign groups operating in Gaza. In early 2011, Hamas ordered all foreign NGOs to register with the central government, pay a fee and submit their financial records for inspection. Most groups eventually relented, but in June Hamas issued a new demand, this time for the groups to permit its officials to audit their books. Hamas offered no explanation for its demand, and the group's objection to its meddling grew. The United States forbids any direct contact between American or American-backed groups and Hamas, which is on the State Department's terror watch-list. As a result, on-site inspection by Hamas officials would lead to suspension of aid, US officials said. The United States accounts for a large share of the money that foreign governments spend on humanitarian assistance in Gaza, the NYT said. Many involved with US and European charities now hope that Washington's warning will prompt Hamas to drop its demand, so that all programs will continue.
However, Hamas spokesman Taher al-Nounou told the newspaper that: “These organizations do not recognize and do not want to recognize the Palestinian law. We do not kneel down to any threat. Any organization that wants to operate in the Palestinian territories must respect the laws.” Aid provided by American and other foreign groups goes to hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza, where most of the 1.6 million residents are refugees.