- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 12, 2004

TEL AVIV — A panel of Palestinian legislators is investigating reports that Palestinian-owned cement companies have sold materials for use in the construction of Israel’s West Bank security barrier.

Some published reports have linked a company owned by the family of Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia to the sales, but a member of the 16-person panel told The Washington Times that those reports were not part of the inquiry at this time.

The charges are politically incendiary for Palestinians, who vehemently oppose the barrier as a land grab by Israel and have appealed to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, which will discuss the case this month.

Citing a need to protect its citizens from terrorist bombings, Israel is building a barrier ringing the West Bank that will be at least 370 miles long.

In most areas, Israel has built a fence, but in East Jerusalem an imposing 30-foot concrete wall has gone up between the city and Abu Dis, the West Bank town where the Palestinian prime minister lives.

Mr. Qureia has denied a report by Israel’s Channel 10 news that Al Quds Cement, which his family owns, supplied building materials to the Israeli government. The report showed footage of company trucks en route to a building site at a Jewish settlement.

Instead, the panel member said, the inquiry is focusing on a Ramallah-based cement company owned by the family of Palestinian Internal Security Minister Jamil Tarifi — a close associate of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Mr. Tarifi was not available for comment.

Members of the panel visited Cairo yesterday to meet with Egyptian journalists who first reported that cement exported from Egypt to the Palestinians was being used to build sections of the barrier.

“The purpose is to investigate the rumors that the cement that was imported from Egypt was delivered to Israel for the apartheid wall,” said Abdul Jawad Saleh, a Palestinian legislator who is part of the investigation panel.

Mr. Saleh said the group “won’t spare anybody” but that it did not believe it had enough information to warrant an investigation into the prime minister’s family business.

He said the investigation had already been under way for two months and that it had focused on seven Palestinian-owned cement factories in the West Bank and Gaza.

Workers at the cement factory owned by Mr. Qureia refused to talk to journalists who visited the company this week.

Jamal Shati, another member of the inquiry committee, told the London Daily Telegraph: “This is a very dangerous national issue. This is something that belongs to the core of the Palestinian cause.”

Neither Mr. Qureia nor Mr. Tarifi could continue in office if it is confirmed that their families’ companies are selling materials for the wall.

Confirmation would also damage the Palestinian Authority, which is seen by the Palestinian public as highly corrupt. In previous years, Palestinian lawmakers have taken a lead role in exposing wrongdoing in the government.

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