By MATTI FRIEDMAN
JERUSALEM (AP) - The U.S. will cut $100 million in American aid money to Palestinians in Gaza if the territory's Hamas rulers continue with "unwarranted audits" of local American nonprofit organizations, a state department official said Friday.
The American threat came in response to a growing attempt by Hamas to exert control over the international organizations that support the many impoverished Palestinians among Gaza's population of 1.5 million people.
This week, Hamas shut down the U.S.-financed International Medical Corps after it refused to submit to a Hamas audit.
The State Department informed Hamas on Thursday that aid worth $100 million would be halted if the International Medical Corps were not allowed to operate freely.
"If they are not allowed to reopen and operate then obviously we are looking at USAID to suspend all operations until the IMC is allowed to reopen," said a state department official in Washington, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. "These are unwarranted audits and amount to an increase in harassment of humanitarian relief staff."
The U.S., which considers Hamas a terrorist organization, does not have direct contact with the group.
Hamas has told nonprofit groups that they must be registered with the Gaza government and provide financial records.
Mohammed Awad, the Hamas minister of planning in Gaza, said the organizations had agreed to have their accounts vetted through a Hamas-appointed accountant.
"We are not saying there is corruption in these organizations but we are trying to put things in order and to ensure that these organizations are providing services to citizens," he said. "These organizations entered this land on this basis."
Hamas - an Islamic group backed by Iran - has been slowly spreading its influence to local groups that had remained outside its control, possibly viewing them as a political threat.
No significant, organized opposition to Hamas exists in Gaza, which came under the group seized in a violent takeover from rival Palestinians in 2007. That takeover followed a Hamas victory in Palestinian elections the previous year.
Most of the international community views the Western-backed Palestinian Authority, which now governs only the West Bank, as the Palestinians' legitimate government.
One such group, a non-governmental organization called the Sharek Youth Forum, was shut down outright last month.
Rizek Abdul Jawad contributed to this report from Gaza City.
Really? We give 100 million dollars to palestine? Which is under Hamas control? Hamas?, whom we have designated a "terrorist organization", and yet we still give 100 million?
Heeeyyyy... Now, I may be off base a bit, I'm certain I'm missing something... But, I have an idea where we can start trimming some of that whole budget thingy. Is anyone else with me on this?
I must say that it's my instinct to say let them sort themselves out and we'll deal with the survivors. That may seem a bit isolationistic of me, but I believe a certain amount of pullback from our MASSIVE expenditures in both treasure and blood in the rest of the world's affairs is in order here.
I am tired of being the world's arbiter
I am tired of being who the world looks to for rescue
I am tired of being the world's police force
I am tired of us pouring untold billions into the money pit that is everywhere else.
Let's take that capital and invest it back into OUR infrastructure, into OUR schools and OUR hospitals.
Let's build a rail infrastructure second to none on earth.
Let's return our dilapidated highway system to the envy of the world.
Let's turn our education system back into the envy of the world.
Let's upgrade our power grid until it is again the the envy of the world.
Let us abandon our status as a debtor nation and return to being a creditor nation.
Let the rest of the world pound sand for a decade or two. We have family to care for before we start helping the neighbors.