Washington, Aug. 12 — Palestinians in Gaza risk losing about $100,000 in U.S.-financed social services and infrastructure assistance if Iran-backed Hamas insists on auditing the agencies that provide the aid, the U.S. State Department said this week.
The threat came after Hamas officials insisted they be allowed to audit the budgets of U.S.-funded non-governmental organizations in Gaza and on Sunday took over the offices of the International Medical Corps. The U.S. and other outside-funded agencies underwrite a variety of services to Gazans ranging from health care to infrastructure for water and agriculture.
U.S. officials said its organizations can’t submit to examinations by Hamas because the United States classifies Hamas as a terrorist group, as do several other nations and entities. United States policy, therefore, forbids working directly with Hamas. The U.S. government does cooperate with the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, which it recognizes as the legitimate ruling Palestinian government despite Hamas’ violent takeover of Gaza four years ago.
Foreign-funded aid organizations already provide audits to the Palestinian Authority, but this year Hamas insisted that the groups also register with and pay fees to the Iranian proxy.
Hamas defended its stance, with spokesman Taher al-Nounou accusing the aid groups of flouting Palestinian law. “We do not kneel down to any threat,” al-Nounou said. “Any organization that wants to operate in the Palestinian territories must respect the laws.”
The United States isn’t the only country that has clashed with Hamas over the demands for audits; last month, in response to similar stipulations, Norway informed Hamas that it was “clear under Palestinian law that the competent authority to monitor the activities of the NGOs is the P.A. Ministry of Interior in Ramallah.” The Norwegian government said it would consider halting its organizations’ work in Gaza.
Both U.S. and Norwegian officials said that if Hamas continues to insist on the audits, Hamas would be held at fault for any suspension of humanitarian assistance and the resulting effect on the 1.6 million people who live in Gaza.