USAID Halts Aid to Gaza over Hamas 'Meddling'

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The U.S. Agency for International Development is halting humanitarian assistance to the Gaza Strip over alleged meddling by the enclave's rulers, Hamas, a U.S. official said Friday.

Meanwhile, in neighboring Egypt, tensions between Washington and the country's ruling generals were sparked on news that a notorious Egyptian intelligence apparatus is probing foreign funding of civil society groups.

"We deeply regret that USAID-funded partner organizations operating in Gaza are forced by Hamas’ actions to suspend their assistance work," the official said on condition of anonymity.

"USAID assistance programs were put on hold effective August 12," he added.

"Hamas, through a series of measures it has imposed over the past months, has created an environment which jeopardizes the ability of non-governmental organizations to provide assistance to Gaza’s most vulnerable residents," the official said.

He said all U.S. partner organizations would suspend their activities funded by the United States until these are able "to operate without interference or harassment from Hamas."

Another official in Washington said he understood that Hamas has been demanding access to physically search files and records of NGOs, which would be unprecedented.

Referring to NGO the International Medical Corps (IMC), the official in Ramallah said that when "the organization objected to the unwarranted audits, Hamas responded by closing down the organization’s office in Gaza.

"These types of physical searches of NGO offices and records are unprecedented and represent a significant increase in the harassment of humanitarian relief and development organizations operating in Gaza.

"We are disappointed that Hamas has once again chosen to put its political agenda ahead of the welfare of the Palestinian people," the official added. "We call on Hamas to cease its interference with internationally funded NGOs, so that we can resume our humanitarian and development activities in Gaza.

Hamas insisted on Friday that it should be able to verify the accounts of NGOs financed by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in the Palestinian territories.

"The minister of interior of the government of Hamas intends to exercise its legal rights in the surveillance of all institutions operating in Gaza," spokesman Taher al-Nunu said.

He complained that "USAID refuses to recognize the government in Gaza," adding that anyone who "wishes to work in Palestinian territory must obey its laws."

Reacting to the situation, Palestinian economy minister Hassan Abu Libdeh called on Hamas to "abstain from any action that threatens relations with the NGOs."

Saying the NGOs were dedicated to "rebuilding Gaza," Abu Libdeh told Agence France Presse that "any halt to their activities will have grave consequences.

In Egypt, the State Security prosecution, which used to coordinate with the State Security Investigations apparatus that was disbanded for rights abuses, is investigating complaints that NGOs were receiving illegal funding from abroad.

The probe, which the sources said was focusing on U.S. funding, came as Washington said it had raised concerns with the military about "anti-Americanism" in Egypt.

"USAID has contributed to Egyptian development needs for more than thirty years, and U.S. taxpayers have over this time financed nearly $30 billion in assistance programs," an embassy statement said.

"And yes, the United States has always included in its assistance programs funding to strengthen and expand Egypt's civil society, including those brave Egyptians struggling for democracy and human rights," it said.

The embassy said its aid funding complied with "the strictest standards of transparency and accountability" and did not fund political groups.