'Hamas, U.S. Reach Agreement on Gaza Humanitarian Aid'

AFP quotes Hamas official as saying deal has been agreed upon to permit for continuation of USAID activities in Gaza; on Friday, U.S. official said operations had been suspended.

A Hamas official announced on Saturday that Hamas and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) have reached a compromise to allow for the continuation of USAID operations in the Gaza Strip, AFP reported.

The AFP report quoted the Hamas official as saying that the deal with USAID was reached through the United Nations.

Food aid shipment to Gaza, AP

On Friday, a U.S. official told Reuters that the U.S. had suspended USAID operations in the Gaza Strip because the hamas had demanded confidential information about their work.

"USAID-funded partner organizations operating in Gaza are forced by Hamas's actions to suspend their assistance work. (They) were put on hold effective August 12," said the official, who is based in the region.

He added that "through a series of measures (Hamas) has imposed over the past months, it has created an environment which jeopardizes the ability of nongovernmental organizations to provide assistance to Gaza's most vulnerable residents."

The official, who declined to be named, said Hamas had demanded access to files and records of NGOs, which would reveal financial and administrative information, details of staff members and information on beneficiaries.

He said that Hamas had shut down the International Medical Corps (IMC) an NGO and USAID partner organization, after its officials objected to "unwarranted audits".

"We are disappointed that Hamas has once again chosen to put its political agenda ahead of the welfare of the Palestinian people," the official said, calling on the group "to cease its interference ... so that we can resume our humanitarian and development activities in Gaza."

Palestinian-based NGOs funded by the European Union have in the past also complained of Hamas meddling in their affairs.

The U.S. official said some 600,000 Gazans - about a third of the population of the coastal enclave - were receiving some $98 million worth of assistance from USAID projects in health, education, construction and infrastructure.

The U.S. has designated Hamas as a terrorist group and it is shunned by the West for spurning permanent coexistence with Israel. The group seized control of the Gaza Strip from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction in 2007.

Also on Saturday, a Hamas spokesman said foreigners must now obtain visas to enter Gaza.

Ghussein said the Hamas government must know who is staying in Gaza in order to protect foreigners.

If implemented, the visa demand could complicate the work of international aid groups in Gaza.

Many international aid groups are prohibited from having direct contact with Hamas or providing Hamas with cash.