US suspends work of aid groups in Gaza Strip

Official says Hamas has "created an environment which jeopardizes the ability of non-governmental organizations to provide assistance."

Trucks enter the Gaza Strip 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Ahmed Zakot)
Trucks enter the Gaza Strip 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ahmed Zakot)

GAZA - The United States has suspendedoperations of the aid organizations it funds in the Hamas-ruledGaza Strip because the Islamist group had demanded confidentialinformation about their work, a US official told Reuters onFriday.

"USAID-funded partner organizations operating in Gaza areforced by Hamas's actions to suspend their assistance work. (They) were put on hold effective August 12," said the official,who is based in the region.

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He added that "through a series of measures (Hamas) hasimposed over the past months, it has created an environmentwhich jeopardizes the ability of nongovernmental organizationsto provide assistance to Gaza's most vulnerable residents."

The official, who declined to be named, said Hamas haddemanded access to files and records of NGOs, which would revealfinancial and administrative information, details of staffmembers and information on beneficiaries.

He said that Hamas had shut down the International MedicalCorps (IMC) an NGO and USAID partner organization, after itsofficials objected to "unwarranted audits".

"We are disappointed that Hamas has once again chosen to putits political agenda ahead of the welfare of the Palestinianpeople," the official said, calling on the group "to cease its interference ... so that we can resume our humanitarian anddevelopment activities in Gaza."

Palestinian-based NGOs funded by the European Union have inthe past also complained of Hamas meddling in their affairs.

Hamas administration official Taher al-Nono said anunderstanding had been reached which would allow independentauditing teams to inspect the files of NGOs, but he added thatHamas had the right to monitor their work in the territory.

The IMC will be allowed to reopen its offices on Saturday orSunday, he added.

Responding to the USAID decision to suspend its partnerorganizations' work, Nono said "Such a decision sounds odd a dayafter the understanding was reached ... we reject any foreignintervention in Palestinian affairs."

The US official said some 600,000 Gazans - about a thirdof the population of the coastal strip - were receiving some$98 million worth of assistance from USAID projects in health,education, construction and infrastructure.