JERUSALEM – Israel wants foreign aid to Gaza disbursed through a voucher system, as a safeguard against donations being diverted to bolster the Palestinian enclave’s Hamas rulers and their arsenal, a government minister said on Tuesday.
Humanitarian agencies put the latest reconstruction costs for the impoverished Gaza Strip at $500 million following 11 days of cross-border fighting in May.
Qatar bankrolled more than $1 billion worth of construction and other projects in Gaza, some of it in cash, after a war in 2014. The payments were monitored and approved by Israel and Doha pledged another $500 million in late May.
New Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett wants a shift in policy, Internal Security Minister Omer Barlev said.
“The Qatari money for Gaza will not go in as suitcases full of dollars which end up with Hamas, where Hamas in essence takes for itself and its officials a significant part of it,” he told Israel’s Army Radio.
He said Bennett envisaged “a mechanism where what will go in, in essence, would be food vouchers, or vouchers for humanitarian aid and not cash that can be taken and used for developing weaponry to be wielded against the state of Israel”.
Hamas, which has previously denied using Gaza aid for its military, did not immediately comment.
Mohammed Al-Emadi, the Qatari aid envoy to Gaza, could not immediately be reached for comment.
A Palestinian official told Reuters: “Nothing is final yet.”
Barlev said the proposed aid mechanism should run mainly through the United Nations. He did not rule out continued donations from Qatar and raised a possibility of European Union assistance.
“Should the mechanism be like this, I have no doubt that Israel would help in the improvement of the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip,” he said.
Israel said last week it will begin seizing cryptocurrency accounts used by the Palestinian Hamas group to raise money for its armed wing.
Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz ordered security forces to seize the accounts after a joint operation “uncovered a web of electronic wallets” used by Hamas to raise funds using bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, the ministry said.
It said Hamas has been waging an online campaign to raise donations for its military wing, efforts that accelerated after the 11-day Gaza war in May. Cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin are favoured for illicit transactions because they are perceived as hard to trace.
“The intelligence, technological and legal tools that enable us to get our hands on terrorists’ money around the world constitute an operational breakthrough,” Gantz was quoted as saying.
Last year, the US Justice Department said it had seized millions of dollars from cryptocurrency accounts that militant groups, including al-Qaida and the Islamic State (ISIS) extremist group, relied on to finance their organisations and violent plots.
The department said it had confiscated about $2 million, in addition to more than 300 cryptocurrency accounts, four websites and four Facebook pages related to the schemes.
One prong of the US investigation targeted the military wing of Hamas. Law enforcement officials seized more than 150 cryptocurrency accounts that they say laundered funds to and from accounts operated by the group.