Hamas demands NGO audits, US threatens to pull aid

Palestinians receive their monthly food aid in the Rafah refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip, on July 21, 2011
Washington has threatened to pull out some US$10 million of humanitarian aid from Gaza over Hamas’ demand to audit the books of American-funded NGOs in the region.

The US Department of State delivered a harsh message to Hamas through a third party on Thursday, the New York Times reports. The demand would violate US policy against direct contact with Hamas, which the State Department views as a terrorist organization.

The threat comes after the group ruling the Gaza Strip suspended the operations of the International Medical Corps on Sunday for its refusal to submit an audit report.

Hamas has been trying to get tighter control over the foreign charities in the region over concerns that the funds could be used for political or intelligence-gathering purposes. It first demanded that the NGOs register with the central government, pay a fee and submit financial reports, according to the New York Times.

However, NGOs’ patience started to run out when in June Hamas urged them to allow officials to audit their books.

The American charities are banned from direct contacts with Hamas as the US does not recognize it as legitimate government in Gaza, despite its victory in elections in 2006.

The NGOs claim that the demand by Hamas violates Palestinian law and American policy.

However, a spokesman for the Hamas government, Taher al-Nounou, denied the claims and said, as quoted by the New York Times, “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.”

The humanitarian aid provided by the US and European charities is vital for the impoverish Gaza Strip, where most of the population are refugees. The NGOs hope that the threat to halt this aid may force Hamas to withdraw its demand.