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Silent battle with Hamas threatens freeze of Int'l NGOs in Gaza

(Xinhua)

09:58, August 12, 2011

GAZA, Aug. 11 (Xinhua) -- Several international NGOs were closed in the Gaza Strip recently and dozens more might be shut down as a result of a silent battle between them and Gaza's Hamas rulers.

Due to this tension, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), threatened to suspend all its projects and the programs it funds in the Gaza Strip, sources told Xinhua.

In addition to 20 organizations and programs supported by the USAID, a number of other groups who receive money from the European Union may also stop. If the 74 international NGOs suspended their work, about 300,000 Palestinians would be negatively affected, according to the source.

That number excludes the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which provides health, education, relief and other services to nearly 900,000 people out of the 1.6 million residents of the Gaza Strip.

The USAID wants Hamas to stop interfering in the internal affairs of the organizations and to reopen at least two international NGOs.

Representatives of some of the organizations, speaking on condition of anonymity because the issue was sensitive, said that Hamas' Interior Ministry wants to monitor the work of them under claims of financial and administrative corruption.

The Hamas' ministry wanted to conduct internal auditing for the organizations by a team representing Hamas authorities, but the organizations strongly refused this.

The heads of the organizations say that it is illegal, under the Palestinian law, for the local authorities to carry out the internal auditing of the organizations, unless there were signs of crimes inside the organizations.

Moreover, the United States and most of the European countries classify Hamas, which took over Gaza by force in 2007, as a terrorist organization for refusing to reorganize Israel.

A Handful of the 74 organizations, which receive local funding or money from Arab and Islamic states, agreed to let Hamas authorities check and review their financial and administrative reports and do in-home auditing.

To overcome the crisis, the sources said that there has been a proposal to let an external, private auditor inspect the financial statements of the organizations, but Hamas also refused that proposal.

The sources said that it is unreasonable to take measures against all organizations in general if there were violations in a specific body.

They warned that ordinary people, especially the poor, will endure the price if the USAID froze the cash assistance to the organizations.

Taher Al-Noounou, spokesman for the Hamas government, said that his government was "implementing the law." He did not show any sign of willingness to hold back. "We will not deal or respond to any threat."

Isam Younis, director of the Gaza-based Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights, said legal bodies here are concerned that Hamas authorities were interfering in the work of local and international NGOs.

He added that there should be a mechanism allowing the organizations to be transparent without the need of intervention from the authorities.

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