Wednesday, August 09, 2006

U.S. Restrictions On Muslim Charities Preventing Americans From Giving Humanitarian Aid To Lebanese

Restrictions imposed by the U.S. "war on terror" are preventing people who wish to alleviate the suffering of the Lebanese people from giving money to charities active in the area.

The problem, according to relief groups, is that many people who are inclined to write checks for emergency aid and reconstruction in Lebanon are afraid of ending up in some government database of suspected supporters of terrorism.

Arab American leaders say this is one of the unintended consequences of the U.S. government's crackdown on charities run by Muslims. Though aimed at cutting off illicit funding for terrorist groups, the crackdown has complicated legitimate humanitarian relief efforts in Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank.

"Dozens of people have approached me. They want to help, they want to send money to buy medicine, and they're afraid of the government reaction to their contribution," said Nihad Awad, executive director of the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations. "Some do it anyway. They can't sit idly. But they worry that one day they'll hear a knock on the door."

Naturally, supporters of Israel have no such problems:

United Jewish Communities, an umbrella organization for 155 Jewish charities across the country, announced last week that it will raise at least $300 million in emergency aid for Israel. The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington alone intends to raise $10 million toward that goal.

By comparison, the flow of private U.S. donations for humanitarian aid in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories is a mere trickle, estimated by relief groups at a few million dollars.

Meanwhile, the situation on the ground for civilians is growing increasingly grim:

International aid workers said the situation was particularly dire throughout the south, because convoys could not reach Tyre, nor venture from there to the outlying villages.

"South of the Litani is off," said Khaled Mansour, the chief United Nations spokesman in Lebanon, indicating that the agency's aid convoys had been halted because the last bridge over the Litani River north of Tyre had been blown up.

The United Nations World Food Program has stopped deliveries of food to southern villages because of the danger on the roads, said a spokeswoman, Christiane Berthiaume.

The World Health Organization warned that if fuel is not delivered soon, 60 percent of the hospitals in Lebanon will "simply cease to function."

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