- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 7, 2002

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will bring to his meeting today with President Bush captured documents that, his government says, show that the Saudi Arabian Interior Ministry has paid millions of dollars to families of Palestinian suicide bombers and to the terrorist group Hamas.
"The Saudis wanted to cover this up," said Col. Miriam Eisin, an Israeli intelligence official who provided copies of the documents to reporters at the Israeli Embassy yesterday.
The Saudi government gave $135 million in the past 16 months to help the families of suicide bombers and fund other aspects of the anti-Israel uprising, she said.
"The money goes to a list of 13 charities, and seven of them fund Hamas," which the State Department lists as a terrorist organization, Col. Eisin said.
Israel said it discovered the documents in mosques in the West Bank but got around to translating and reading them only after spending weeks working on Palestinian Authority papers captured from Yasser Arafat's compound in Ramallah.
Those documents, also made public by Israel, indicated that the Palestinian leader signed his approval to requests for payments of about $600 each to people accused by Israel of terrorism. A Palestinian official said those documents were forgeries.
Mr. Bush yesterday repeated his lack of faith in Mr. Arafat but insisted that the Israelis couldn't avoid dealing with the Palestinian leader in any peace process.
"He has disappointed me. He must lead. He must show the world that he believes in peace," Mr. Bush told reporters during a visit to an elementary school in Southfield, Mich.
Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan, in a statement released last night, called the Israeli charges against his country "totally baseless and false."
"These allegations are a smoke screen intended to distract attention away from the peace process. Israel wants to discredit Saudi Arabia, which has been a leading voice for peace," he said.
The Saudis have had some success in influencing Bush administration policy. After a meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah in Crawford, Texas, in late April, Mr. Bush phoned Mr. Sharon three times to press him into accepting the compromise that ended the confinement of Mr. Arafat in Ramallah last week.
Some of the documents released by Israel yesterday bore the letterhead of the "Saudi Arabian Committee for Support of the Al Quds Intifada," headed by Saudi Interior Minister Naif Ibn Abed al Aziz.
That same committee recently collected $109.56 million in a telethon to back the Palestinians.
"This committee, according to the captured documents, transferred large sums of money to families of Palestinians who died in violent events, including notorious terrorists," said an Israeli report describing the documents.
The documents indicated payments of about $5,000 each to the families of Palestinians killed in the intifada. One list of 102 persons had the names of eight suicide bombers marked in yellow, indicating an awareness of what they had done.
U.S. and Israeli officials previously had said Iraq was paying sums ranging from $10,000 to $25,000 to the families of those who died in the intifada, but this was the first time Israel had directly accused the Saudis of funding suicide bombers.
"If the Saudi policy is to fund suicide bombers, they cannot be part of the peace coalition," said Israeli Education Minister and Sharon aide Limor Livnat, speaking at the embassy yesterday.
Prince Bandar, in his statement, said Saudi Arabia "is committed to helping the 3 million Palestinians who are victimized by Israeli violence," including "killings, displacements, imposition of starvation and siege."
"This help includes financial assistance to the families of victims distributed through humanitarian organizations, such as the United Nations, the Red Cross and the Red Crescent. This does not mean that Saudi Arabia is paying suicide bombers," he said.
The release of the documents complicates the Bush administration's plan for a Middle East peace conference this summer, which includes a major role for the Saudis.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell yesterday told the Anti-Defamation League of the B'nai B'rith that the U.S. strategy had three elements: ending violence, rebuilding accountable Palestinian institutions and taking political steps to resolve the conflict.
"We are working on a meeting to be held later in the summer where we can begin to bring together the different ideas, the different visions that exist with respect to security, with respect to economic development and with respect to a political way forward," Mr. Powell said.
At the same forum, Mr. Sharon said Israel "is at war and fighting for its home," again comparing his country's battle with the Palestinians to the U.S. fight against terrorism in Afghanistan.
He also thanked the United States for helping "to get us out of this trap" and avoid a U.N. inquiry into accusations of a massacre in the Jenin refugee camp. "We were blamed. There was no massacre. No one has the right to put us on trial," the prime minister said.
Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al Faisal was cool to the idea of a peace conference at a meeting with Mr. Powell later yesterday.
"The conference or a meeting is not an objective in itself; it depends on what that meeting includes," he told reporters outside the State Department. "But it is not a bad idea if the content is the proper content."
Mr. Powell also met yesterday with Jordan's King Abdullah, after which he told reporters that his summer peace conference would "not be a one-time meeting."

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