- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 12, 2006

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Beleaguered Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh warned yesterday that decisions by the U.S. and European Union to suspend aid to his Hamas-led government are jeopardizing Western strategic interests in the Arab and Muslim world.

In an interview with The Washington Times, Mr. Haniyeh, 49, said the United States and Europe are withholding aid as a “cover” to bolster Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands.

“The West should not risk destroying its relationship with the Arab and Muslim area,” said the silver-bearded Hamas stalwart. He spoke prior to more than three hours of emergency talks with his Cabinet.

He said the financial measures, which had emptied the Palestinian treasury, would “subject the Palestinian people to a further load of suffering.”

The aid suspension, he said, was “a cover, or green light, for the occupation to continue its aggression.”

The Palestinian Authority, set up in 1994 under the Oslo accords, pays $120 million a month in salaries to its employees, including 56,000 security personnel. Government operations cost about $30 million a month, an official said.

Palestinian finance ministry officials are scrambling to obtain loans from private Palestinian, Arab and Islamic banks.

Bank Hapoalim, the main Israeli bank that had been transferring monthly tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority, sent a private letter this week saying it was “suspending all relations,” a Palestinian official said on the condition of anonymity.

More ominously, the official revealed, the major private Jordanian-owned Arab Bank has indicated that it plans to close the Palestinian Authority account and call in more than $100 million it had loaned to the authority in recent months.

Economy Minister Alaa Al-Areej, in a separate interview, said the Americans and Europeans are attempting to bring down the fledgling Hamas-led administration.

“We were expecting the worst from Israel and from the Americans, but the European decision has caught us by surprise,” he said. “We believe it’s a failure of European democracy.”

The aid cutoff stems from Hamas’ refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist and its refusal to honor agreements negotiated by the previous Palestinian government.

The militant group’s charter calls for the destruction of the Jewish state.

Mr. Al-Areej denied that the new Palestinian government is a Hamas administration, saying that seven of the government’s 24 ministers are full-fledged Hamas members.

He appeared to backtrack on Hamas statements that the government would have little or nothing to do with Israel.

“We said from the start we are ready to negotiate matters of everyday life — and financial matters,” he said.

Distributed by World News & Features

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