PA Closes All Charities in West Bank, Gaza

(Reuters)- The Palestinian Authority has shut down all charities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and accused some of corruption.

Minister of Religious Affairs Jamal Bawatneh said on Wednesday his ministry had appointed a seven-strong committee to oversee the collection and disbursement of funds to the poor.

Palestinian officials said the closing of the 92 charities – or Zakat – was likely to harm those mainly belonging to the Islamist Hamas movement.

"Some of the committees violated the law and were corrupt," Bawatneh told Reuters.

"Some of the people heading those committees belong to Hamas but others are not from Hamas. The corrupt must be removed.

"Not all the Zakat committees were corrupt but we decided to close all of them to avoid finger-pointing.

Some committees had collected large amounts of money intended for the poor but only a fraction of the money had gone to its intended recipients.

Most of the money was used to build supermarkets and hospitals, and was invested. Some of the money was also used to support charities run by political parties," Bawatneh said.

"In many cases, the funds were disbursed according to political affiliation but these committees should not be exploited for political purposes," he said.

In August, the government of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad closed more than 100 charities, mostly belonging to Hamas. It was regarded as a move aimed at weakening Hamas which seized control of the Gaza Strip in June.

Abbas appointed Fayyad as prime minister after sacking a Hamas-led government in June. He has tried to reduce Hamas’s influence in the West Bank by cutting its welfare network which it uses to acquire funding and gain popular support.

Hamas lawmaker Ayman Daraghmeh said that the move was an attempt by Fayyad’s government to "dry up the funding sources of the Hamas movement". He said he believed the committee heads were independent and not affiliated with Hamas.

"Mistakes may have been made by some committees and this was used as a pretext by the government to close all the committees, but this step will badly affect the poor and it will paralyze charity work," he said.

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