(by Julie Stahl, CNSNews.com) Jerusalem – Despite a Western boycott of the Hamas-led Palestinian government, Hamas managed to bring millions of dollars across the Egyptian border into the cash-starved Gaza Strip this week.
The cash infusion is seen as a boost for Hamas in its power struggle with the Fatah faction of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
Israel is concerned that millions of dollars in cash that are being ferried across the border will be used to beef up the terrorist infrastructure there.
The Palestinian government’s financial crisis erupted in violence on Wednesday, when dozens of Palestinian civil servants stormed the parliament building in Ramallah, demanding to be paid. Some angry men threw water bottles at Hamas legislators, forcing the parliament speaker to flee the building.
The U.S., European Union and other Western nations cut off financial aid to the Palestinian Authority after Hamas won a landslide victory in January’s parliamentary elections. (The United States lists Hamas as a terror group.)
International banks, intimidated by U.S. counter-terrorism laws, also refused to transfer funds to the Hamas-led P.A., although humanitarian aid has continued.
In recent weeks, it’s become clear that Hamas officials have found a way to circumvent the international boycott by bringing large amounts of cash into the Gaza Strip.
On Thursday, P.A. Minister of Information Yousef Rizka carried $2 million across the border. According to Julio de La Guardia, press officer for the European Union border monitors, the money was declared at customs. The Hamas minister stated that it came from foreign donations and was destined for the P.A. Ministry of Finance.
On Wednesday, P.A. Foreign Minister Mahmoud al-Zahar returned from an extended trip abroad with suitcases packed with $20 million, which was also deposited with the P.A. Ministry of Finance.
Thursday’s transfer was the fourth such action, La Guardia said. Such cash transfers are legal as long as they are declared at the border — an apparent loophole in the financial aid boycott.
“This money comes from donations from Arab and Islamic countries,” said Hamas spokesman Ghazi Hamad by telephone. “It will be entered in the Ministry of Finance [under] the control of the government to pay salaries [and] services.”
P.A. Legislator Saeb Erekat said that border security officials –loyalists to Abbas — are legally required to allow the money to come across the border as long as it is declared. But he said the E.U. monitors are extremely upset about it and wrote him a letter on Thursday.
“It’s a very serious situation,” said Erekat. “If the Europeans withdraw, we don’t have a passage.”
The Palestinians were given control of the border through an agreement brokered by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, which also requires European observers to monitor the border crossing.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said Israel was concerned for other reasons.
“The amounts of cash they are able to carry in a suitcase are not enough to run the Palestinian government,” Regev said. “Unfortunately it is more than enough to keep the terrorist infrastructure very much alive.”
Some P.A. civil servants received part of their salaries last week but most of the more than 140,000 P.A. workers have not received their paychecks for more than three months. Even so, Hamas recently managed to put a 3,000-strong security force on the streets of Gaza — with those security officials all armed and wearing new uniforms.
Earlier this week, hundreds of gunmen from Abbas’ Fatah faction and P.A. security officers set fire to parliamentary offices in Ramallah as part of the ongoing feud between Hamas and Fatah members.
Hamad said the P.A. needs $117 million a month just to pay salaries and another $50 million for other expenses.
Israeli Prime Ministerial spokesman Dr. Ra’anan Gissin said that the cash infusions Hamas has managed to secure will boost Hamas at the expense of Abbas. He said he doubted the money would go to pay salaries but would be used instead to fund the Hamas militia.
Israel is making every effort to shore up Abbas in his struggle to gain control of the P.A.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who is winding up a five-day European tour, said Israel would “seek out any possible way to support the Palestinian leader Abbas, a man who on many occasions voiced his objection to terror.”
Olmert said Israel would do its best to help Abbas fulfill the principles set out by the Quartet (the U.S., European Union, Russia, and United Nations): recognize Israel, abandon terrorism and abide by previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements.
Hamas, which runs the government, has refused to meet those demands.
Olmert announced earlier this week that it would allow the transfer of more than 300 rifles and ammunition from Jordan to Abbas’ presidential guard.
Israel wants to give Abbas a chance to carry out his policies and to prove that he can impose law and order, said Gissin.
Reprinted here with permission from Cybercast News Service. Visit the website at CNSNews.com.
1. How did Hamas bring millions of dollars into Gaza this week? How will this help Hamas?
2. How does Hamas say it will use the money? What does Israel fear Hamas will do with the money?
3. Why did the U.S., European Union and other Western nations cut off financial aid to the Palestinian Authority?
4. OPTIONAL: CHALLENGE QUESTION:
What percent of the Palestinian Authority’s annual budget comes from the U.S., E.U. and other Western nations? How did you find the answer? Be specific.
5. How much money per year does the Palestinian Authority need for salaries and other expenses?
6. Why is Israel supporting Palestinian Chairman Mahmoud Abbas?
7. What reaction has Hamas had to the principles set out by the Quartet?
8. What do you think about the fighting between Palestinian groups Fatah and Hamas?
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