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Palestinian athority freezes funds charities { August 28 2003 }

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Palestinian Authority freezes funds of Islamic charities
IBRAHIM BARZAK, Associated Press Writer
Thursday, August 28, 2003
2003 Associated Press

(08-28) 04:06 PDT GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) --

The Palestinian Authority has frozen 39 bank accounts of nine Islamic charities in what appeared to be part of a U.S.-sought crackdown on Palestinian militants, according to an official document obtained Thursday by The Associated Press.

The Palestinian Authority has been under growing U.S. pressure to take action against militants, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, after they formally abandoned a unilateral truce last week, following Israel's killing of a Hamas leader in response to a deadly Hamas bus bombing.

Despite U.S. prodding, the Palestinian government has been reluctant to arrest the militants and seize their weapons, because of concern about triggering unrest and because of wrangling between Yasser Arafat and his prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, over control of the security forces.

Palestinian police have sealed several tunnels used for smuggling weapons and drugs from Egypt into Gaza. Israel has said it is dissatisfied with the Palestinians' actions and will keep hunting militants until the Palestinian Authority begins dismantling the armed groups, as required by the U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan.

Dore Gold, an Israeli government spokesman, welcomed the freezing of funds. "There have been charities that Israel has long suspected of being front organizations for Hamas," he said. "Anything that serves this need (of stopping the flow of money) is a positive development."

The order to shut down the bank accounts was issued by the Palestinian Monetary Authority on Sunday, and came to light Thursday, when hundreds of Palestinians relying on welfare payments from charities tried to pick up their monthly support checks at banks in Gaza City. They were told by banks they would not receive the money because the accounts have been frozen.

Officials in the Palestinian Monetary Authority declined comment Thursday.

According to a copy of the order obtained by The AP, nine charities are affected: Al Jamiya Al Islamiya, the Islamic Young Women's Association, Al Salah Association, the Social Care Committee, the Palestinian Student Friends Association, the Islamic Charity for Zakat, Al Mujamma Al Islami, Al Nour Charity Association and Al Aqsa Charity Association. The banks were told no money can be withdrawn from the charities' accounts without authorization of the attorney general.

President Bush, responding to the Aug. 19 bus bombing in Jerusalem that killed 21 people, announced last week that the United States is freezing the funds of six senior Hamas figures in Gaza, Syria and Lebanon, as well as of five European-based charities that he accused of funding Hamas. Those five charities are different from the nine operating in the Gaza Strip.

In the past three years of violence, the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority has increasingly stopped providing welfare services, and private charities, including Islamic ones receiving large sums of money from abroad, have filled the void.

Amir Abu Omarein, director of Al Mujamma Al Islami, said the freezing of funds will hurt the poorest among the Palestinians. He said his charity supports about 3,000 people, including the families of Palestinian prisoners, those who were wounded in fighting with Israel and orphans.

Abu Omarein would not say how much money the charity had in its account, or what the source of the donations is.

About 2,000 welfare recipients organized a protest march Thursday after learning they would not receive their monthly checks. "We are not terrorists. Freezing the bank accounts is a crime," read one of their banners.

Hanan Jaress, 45, a mother of 12, said she received 800 shekels $190 monthly from the Al Mujamma Al Islami group, which was set up in the 1970s by Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader and founder of Hamas. "This step will make me unable to feed my children," she said. "The Palestinian Authority gives me nothing."

Israel has said the charities are being used to channel funds from abroad to Hamas and Islamic Jihad for violent activities.

Also Thursday, Israeli soldiers in Nablus fired rubber bullets and live rounds at stone-throwing teenagers. At least nine Palestinians were wounded, three of them seriously, hospital officials said. The army said that in two cases, Palestinians shoved ovens from ledges or roofs, trying to hit soldiers.

Dozens of Palestinians also threw rocks at Israeli tanks in Jenin, but no injuries were reported.

In the nearby town of Qabatiya, soldiers blew up the two-story house of an Islamic Jihad militant who died in a Jan. 1 shooting attack after killing an Israeli. Witnesses said 15 relatives left the house before it was demolished, a common action by the army intended to dissuade others from attacks.

2003 Associated Press

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