Gaza Strip could lose around $100 million in foreign aid if the U.S. government will follow through on its threat to withdraw financial assistance. That is, if Hamas leaders would continue insisting a financial audit of American aid groups operating there.
The move is expected to deal a big blow to Gaza’s 1.6 million residents — most of them refugees — as U.S. funds account for a large portion of foreign humanitarian assistance flowing to Gaza. The area’s health care, agriculture and water infrastructure are supported by U.S. money.
The statement from the U.S. State Department comes after Hamas officials suspended the operations of humanitarian nonprofit group International Medical Corps for its refusal to submit to a Hamas audit.
The insistence of Hamas officials to audit the books of non-governmental organizations in the area is perceived to be aligned with a plan by Hamas to start collecting income taxes from aid workers. Others believe the audit stems out of fear by Hamas that foreign financing of charities can be diverted for political or intelligence-gathering uses. The audits are thus seen as part of the Hamas’s increasing surveillance of NGOs.
For American NGOs, submitting to an audit by Hamas would mean suspension of funding due to the U.S. government’s “no contact” policy.
Foreign officials and charities in the area hope the threat of losing foreign aid would convince Hamas officials — who are reportedly cash-strapped — to back off on their demand so that their programs can continue.
This is even as Hamas spokesperson Taher al-Nounou said that any organization that wants to operate in the Palestinian territories “must respect the laws,” including submitting themselves to a government audit.
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