- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 5, 2001

President Bush yesterday froze the assets of U.S.-based groups linked to Palestinian terrorists in the strongest indication to date that he was enthusiastically backing Israel's crackdown on Yasser Arafat's supporters.
Mr. Bush previously had focused on Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network, which was believed to be responsible for the September 11 attacks on America, but yesterday targeted the assets of Hamas, a Palestinian terrorist group that had stepped up attacks against Israel in recent days.
"Hamas openly claimed responsibility for this past weekend's suicide attacks in Israel that killed 25 innocent people, many of them teen-agers, and wounded almost 200 other people," Mr. Bush said in the Rose Garden. "Hamas is guilty of hundreds of other deaths over the years, and just in the past 12 months, it killed two Americans."
The administration froze the assets of the Holy Land Foundation in Richardson, Texas, a self-described charity that had funneled millions of dollars to Hamas, said Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill.
"This is not a case of one bad actor stealing from the petty-cash drawer and giving that stolen money to terrorists," Mr. O'Neill said. "This organization exists to raise money in the United States to promote terror. Last year, Holy Land raised $13 million in the United States."
Federal agents seized records in Holy Land offices in Texas, California, New Jersey and Illinois. Those records might now end up being shared with Israeli intelligence.
"America will not be used as a staging ground for the financing of those groups that violently oppose peace as a solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict," said Attorney General John Ashcroft. "We won't tolerate it any more than we will tolerate the financing of groups that on September 11 attacked our homeland."
Shukri Abu Baker, chief executive officer of Holy Land Foundation, speculated that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon persuaded Mr. Bush to freeze the assets during a meeting of the two leaders in the White House on Sunday.
"I think Sharon has more leverage on our policies than the U.S. Constitution," Mr. Baker told reporters as he left Holy Land headquarters in Texas. "I think it was the Sharon-Bush meeting."
Mr. Bush revealed yesterday that he and Mr. Sharon decided during their meeting to join forces in the war against terrorism.
"I commiserated with him, because a lot of innocent people had been killed or hurt as a result of terrorist activity," the president said during an appearance in Florida. "I think the Israeli people want to have peace.
"But we learned in such a vivid way that there are elements in the Middle East that hate the thought of peace and will be willing to use terror to derail any type of peace process."
Those elements, Mr. Bush says, include Hamas, which has been funded by U.S.-based charities.
"The Holy Land Foundation claims that the money it solicits go to care for needy Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza," the president said.
"Money raised by the Holy Land Foundation is used by Hamas to support schools and indoctrinate children to grow up into suicide bombers," he added. "Money raised by the Holy Land Foundation is also used by Hamas to recruit suicide bombers and to support their families."
Mr. Baker disputed the president's assessment.
"He didn't know what he was talking about," he said. "What evidence did they show today?"
The administration's aggressive new stance toward the Palestinians signals growing confidence that Mr. Bush can weather criticism from centrist Arab states over widening the war on terrorism. International outrage over last weekend's attacks has shifted attention away from Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and toward Mr. Arafat as the next potential target of the war.
"The spotlight now flashes on the Middle East in a terrible way," Mr. Bush said. "It is incumbent upon Mr. Arafat now to respond forcefully to root out those who killed."
He added: "We cannot let a few prevent the many from achieving a dream, which is lasting peace in the Middle East."
In addition to freezing the assets of Holy Land, the administration also blocked the accounts of a Hamas-linked bank and a Hamas-linked holding company based in the West Bank.
During an interview yesterday with TV personality Barbara Walters, Mr. Bush suggested U.S. troops may be deployed to nations other than Afghanistan.
"This war on terror is so unconventional that there will be strikes that people may not see until we tell them that there's been a strike," he said in the interview, scheduled to air tonight on ABC's "20/20."
"And there may be need to use military troops elsewhere. But let me caution you about this, that we've got awhile to go in Afghanistan."

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