US blocks Palestinian coronavirus relief over fear it may aid terrorism

No COVID cash for terrorists.

The United States Agency for International Development has moved to aggressively block the distribution of coronavirus relief funds to the entire Gaza strip over concerns the money could fall into the hands of Palestinian terrorist group Hamas.

“The Trump administration is not supporting assistance to Gaza,” a senior administration official with knowledge of USAID plans told The Post. “There is a Hamas government in Gaza. They have indicated no interest in engaging with us, no interest in peace with Israel and in fact they continue — despite having coronavirus cases in Gaza — to fire rockets at the Israelis on a regular basis.”

The issue of Gaza funding came to the fore internally after the United States pledged $5 million to help Palestinian relief services in their fight against the deadly pandemic.

“I’m very pleased the USA is providing $5M for Palestinian hospitals and households to meet immediate, life-saving needs in combating COVID-19. The USA, as the world’s top humanitarian aid donor, is committed to assisting the Palestinian people, & others worldwide, in this crisis,” U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman announced in an April 16 tweet.

The plan currently calls for USAID to distribute the funds entirely within the West Bank, ruled by the comparatively more moderate Palestinian Authority and its aging leading Mahmoud Abbas. The funds will be released to a contractor, who would then have discretion to divvy up the cash on the ground as they see fit.

Finding a trusted contractor to ensure the money flows exclusively to COVID-19 efforts instead of rockets and terror tunnels in Gaza has proved difficult. The leading contender for the job right now, Catholic Relief Services, has repeatedly expressed interest in distributing cash in the Hamas-controlled territory and has petitioned both the State Department and USAID to release funds previously awarded to them to spend in Gaza.

“Catholic Relief Services (CRS), along with other faith-based and U.S. private voluntary agencies, is desperately mobilizing to mitigate the potentially catastrophic impact of COVID-19 in Gaza,” wrote CRS chief Sean Callahan in a March 20 missive to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and USAID administrator Mark Andrew Green. “We are urgently requesting the support of USAID in these efforts. ”

The Catholic Relief pitch to distribute funds has also raised eyebrows among staff at the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem — who raised a number of possible concerns about how the relief organization would allocate funds.

“USAID should ask up front the entire list of ‘local partners’ and ‘key partners’ who will receive any U.S. taxpayer dollars so that USAID can do thorough and proper vetting of each ahead of time,” embassy staff wrote.

Reps for CRS and the State Department did not respond to request for comment from The Post.


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