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Friday, August 12, 2011

Your tax dollars at work: US sends aid money to Gaza, now Hamas wants to 'audit' the NGO's who pass it on

You probably all figured (as I did) that since Hamas took over, the US doesn't send any aid money directly to Gaza (only indirectly via the 'Palestinian Authority' and UNRWA). But the New York Times reported on Thursday that the US is threatening to suspend aid to Gaza, and that means they've been sending it directly until now. And the reason for the suspension? This is rich: Hamas wants to 'audit' the NGO's through which the aid is funneled.
The State Department sent a message to Hamas rulers in Gaza on Thursday that it would withdraw some $100 million it is spending in Gaza on health care, agriculture and water infrastructure if they did not back off a demand to audit the books of American-financed charities operating there.

The threat, delivered via an intermediary, came after Hamas officials on Sunday suspended the operation of the International Medical Corps for its refusal to submit to a Hamas audit at the charity’s site.

Tensions have been simmering for months over Hamas’s relations with the nongovernmental organizations of a number of countries operating in Gaza as the authorities have sought to increase surveillance of the groups. Early this year, Hamas asked all such groups to register with the central government, pay a fee and submit financial reports.

Those requests, while resisted, were ultimately agreed to by most groups, officials at charities based in Gaza said. But in June, when Hamas demanded that the groups permit its officials to audit their books, the objections grew markedly. Though Hamas did not explain the reason for its demand, many governments are suspicious of foreign financing of charities, fearing that money can be diverted to political or intelligence-gathering activities.

For American organizations, United States policy forbids direct contact with Hamas, labeled a terrorist group by the State Department. As a result, on-site audits by Hamas officials would lead to suspension of aid, American officials said. The United States accounts for a large share of the money foreign governments spend on humanitarian assistance in Gaza.

The hope of the charities and American and European officials is that Hamas will drop its demand in the coming days so that all programs can continue. They argued that the insistence on on-site audits violated Palestinian law as well as American policy. All officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because negotiations with Hamas were continuing.

But Taher al-Nounou, a spokesman for the Hamas government, rejected their argument, saying: “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. Like the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, Hamas has had trouble meeting its payroll recently, and foreign officials hope that the threat of losing outside funding will persuade Hamas officials to drop their demand.
'Mostly refugees'? Most of the 'refugees' died a long time ago....

By the way, nice hotel Gaza has there, isn't it?

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