Tags: Israel | Aims | Choke | Off | Funds | Gaza

Israel Aims to Choke Off Funds to Gaza

Tuesday, 19 June 2007 12:00 AM

JERUSALEM -- Israel plans to tighten a financial clampdown on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip that would choke off all but humanitarian and basic supplies, senior Israeli and Western officials said on Tuesday.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction flatly rejected a Hamas overture for "dialogue" and banned all contacts with the group.

Mohammad Dahlan, Hamas's arch-nemesis and the president's national security adviser, branded the Islamists an "occupation force" in Gaza, the phrase commonly used to denounce Israel.

While opening the funding taps to the Western-backed emergency government set up by Abbas in the occupied West Bank, Israel and the United States want to isolate Hamas financially, diplomatically and militarily in the Gaza Strip which the Islamist group seized by force last week.

The embargo will be coupled with a U.S.-led push for renewed peace talks between Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri said: "It is surprising that while they (Fatah leaders) are for holding a dialogue with the Zionists, they reject dialogue with us."

Israel plans to bar Palestinian tax funds transferred to Abbas from reaching Gaza to run Hamas-led agencies and pay workers, two senior Israeli officials said.

"Gaza is a terrorist-controlled entity now," said an Israeli official who is working with the Bush administration to isolate Hamas. "No financial assistance can go to any entity or person with connections to the Hamas-run administration in Gaza."

Palestinian Information Minister Riyad al-Malki said the emergency government knew of no Israeli conditions on the tax funds which Israel collects on the Palestinian Authority's behalf. "We will not accept any conditions," he said.

Israeli officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Israel was discussing with the United States the scope of their Gaza embargo. Olmert will meet U.S. President George W. Bush at the White House on Tuesday.

Israeli cabinet minister Meir Sheetrit told Reuters that Israel had to be sure there was no way the money could be used "for terror or (by) the Hamas".

Israeli and Western officials said humanitarian supplies would not be cut off and might be increased.

Majdi al-Khalidi, an adviser in Abbas's office, told Western diplomats the emergency government could remain for a period of two months and then become a caretaker administration that could try to lay the ground for new elections.

A senior Western diplomat said Abbas's office made clear it does not want the international community to have "any contact or provide any legitimacy to Hamas in Gaza" except to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

A senior Western diplomat said the flow of water and power would not be affected but Gaza would face severe restrictions, including a freeze on exports while Hamas is in power.

Abbas's aides said the emergency government believed it had a responsibility to pay those workers in Gaza, including members of the security services, who follow the instructions of the new government and not the Hamas administration.

"But it's unclear how they would make that distinction," one senior Western diplomat said. Abbas could use Arab funds, rather than the tax money transferred by Israel, to pay Gaza workers.

Israeli officials say up to $400 million in Palestinian tax revenues will be transferred to Abbas's emergency government in stages, short of the $700 million sought by Abbas. Israel says the rest of the money has been frozen by court order.

The United States and the European Union have thrown their support behind Abbas's new government, announcing they will end a 15-month-old economic embargo of the Palestinian Authority.

It is unclear if the EU will go along with Israeli efforts to isolate Gaza, whose 1.5 million residents are aid-dependent.

A European Union aid program plans to continue paying monthly "allowances" - approximately $360 each - directly to the Palestinian Authority's non-security work force, including those in Hamas-controlled Gaza, EU officials said.

But an Israeli official said Israel wants to scale back the European program to pay allowances only to workers in Gaza's health sector to ensure hospitals keep functioning.

© reuters 2007. All Rights Reserved.

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JERUSALEM -- Israel plans to tighten a financial clampdown on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip that would choke off all but humanitarian and basic supplies, senior Israeli and Western officials said on Tuesday. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction flatly...
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Tuesday, 19 June 2007 12:00 AM
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