UK sanctions enforcer targets aid charities working in Gaza

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British aid charities working in Gaza have been told they must provide details of their operations and finances in the Hamas-controlled Palestinian territory to the UK government’s office responsible for enforcing financial sanctions.

In a letter sent earlier this month, the Treasury’s Office for the Implementation of Financial Sanctions (OFSI) asked charities for information including payments to local authorities and for utilities and services purchased in Gaza since December 2020 when Hamas was added to the UK counter-terrorism sanctions list. .

The letter is described as a “formal request” for information needed by the OFSI to monitor compliance with the sanctions regulations.

He says that the charities were contacted because they are registered on the public register of the Charity Commission as operating in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

“As a charity with operations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, perhaps in Gaza, it is your responsibility to ensure that you are meeting your financial sanctions obligations,” he says.

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Middle East Eye is aware of at least nine charities that have received copies of the letter in the past week. They include several Muslim charities as well as members of the Disaster Emergency Committee, an alliance of 15 leading aid charities.

The letter asks the charities to confirm whether they are operating in Gaza and to “provide details of any payments such as local authority fees, taxes, utilities and services including water supply, waste services. [and] telephone or broadband payments”.

It states that charities must provide details including exact dates and amounts paid, the names of the organizations or individuals who are the recipient, a summary of why the payment was made, and supporting documents such as invoices and receipts.

It warns that failure to do so could be considered an offense under counter-terrorism sanctions regulations and says a response must be sent by April 28.

Letter sent at the beginning of Ramadan

Sources from several charities that received the letter said they were consulting their lawyers. Others expressed concern that the letter was sent out at the start of Ramadan.

“They contacted Muslim charities in the first two days of Ramadan with a response deadline of one month. This is absurd. They know this,” said one charity official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

A source working for a major charity said OFSI’s request was “a big ask for any finance department in a short space of time, especially over Easter and Ramadan”.

Tom Keatinge, director of the Center for Financial Crime & Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute told MEE that the letter raised questions about why OFSI was seeking the information requested, and how its disclosure would support compliance.

“I’m wondering if someone in OFSI has woken up recently to the fact that, given Hamas’ control of Gaza, there is probably some sort of financial link between the provision of city utilities and services and Hamas – and the implications of that. ,” Keatinge told MEE.

“The fact that a threat of offense is included seems unnecessarily heavy-handed.”

More than 500 British charities are listed as working in the Occupied Palestinian Territories on the Charity Commission’s register.

But there has been far less work in Gaza due to the challenges of operating in the territory since Israel blockaded it in 2007 in response to taking control of Hamas.

About 1.3 million people, or 58 percent of Gaza’s population, are in need of humanitarian assistance, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

A report on the UK’s Muslim humanitarian charity sector published by the Ayaan Institute think tank last month estimated that 61 projects in Gaza were run by British-based Muslim charities between 2017 and 2021.

Treasury counter-terrorism sanctions against Hamas were in place before the Home Office banned the movement as a terrorist group.

Hamas’s military wing, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, has been banned in the UK since 2001.

Will UK Hamas ban stop charity work in Gaza?

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But in November 2021, the British government added the political wing of Hamas to its list of banned organisations, raising concerns that charities working in Gaza could be at risk of breaching terrorism laws.

Some charities have also had problems sending funds to partners on the ground as banks consider money transfers to Gaza a high-risk activity.

Nur Choudhury, chairman of Humanitarian Aid, told MEE that it was much more difficult for British charities to work in Gaza, and added that Muslim charities would be hard pressed to respond to the letter.

“Muslim charities tend to be much smaller in size and more agile and this will take away valuable resources that are limited anyway,” said Choudhury.

“You are meeting Muslim charities at the busiest time of the year. This is grossly unfair.”

A Treasury spokesman declined to comment and referred MEE to guidance on financial sanctions for charities published by OFSI.

The Charity Commission also declined to comment and referred MEE to its own guidance for charities operating in areas where financial sanctions apply.

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