- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 28, 2003

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Palestinian authorities said yesterday that they have frozen the bank accounts of nine Islamic charities to investigate whether the organizations funnel money to militants — the Palestinians’ most striking action yet in a U.S.-sought clampdown on armed groups.

Israel welcomed the decision but threatened tough action after a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip hit near the coastal city of Ashkelon, the deepest strike since the group Hamas began firing Qassams toward Israel in November 2001.

Later yesterday, an Israeli helicopter fired missiles at a target in Gaza, killing a Hamas member and wounding at least three persons, officials and witnesses said. Palestinians identified the dead man as Hamdi Kalkha, 23, a member of Hamas’ military wing. The Israeli army did not comment.

Israeli bulldozers and tanks earlier flattened brush just inside Gaza to rob militants of cover — the first foray into Palestinian-controlled land since Israel withdrew from parts of Gaza last month under the U.S.-backed “road map” peace plan.

Security officials said the move was not a prelude to a major military strike.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Hamas was trying to hit a power plant just south of Ashkelon. The rocket caused little damage or injury, but Israel considers it a strategic threat.

The Palestinian Monetary Authority issued the order Sunday to shut down 39 accounts of the nine charities.

The move became known yesterday, when hundreds of Palestinians relying on welfare payments from charities tried to pick up their monthly checks at banks in Gaza City. The banks said the accounts were blocked and turned them away.

Dore Gold, an Israeli government spokesman, praised the move.

“There have been charities that Israel has long suspected of being front organizations for Hamas,” he said. “Anything that serves this need [of stopping the flow of money] is a positive development.”

Palestinian Monetary Authority spokesman Abdel Maguid Mashrawi said the aim was to “monitor the money that is coming from outside, and to make sure that this money is used by these institutions for service purposes.”

Officials said the government is trying to find a way to monitor the money transfers so that the welfare payments can resume.

According to a copy of the order, obtained by the Associated Press, the following are the nine charities: Al Jamiya Al Islamiya, the Islamic Young Women’s Association, As-Salah Association, the Social Care Committee, the Palestinian Student Friends Association, the Islamic Charity for Zakat, Al Mujamma Al Islami, Al Nour Charity Association and Al Aqsa Charity Association.

Hamas disputed any links to the charities and said the Palestinian Authority is acting under U.S. and Israeli pressure.

President Bush, responding to an Aug. 19 bus bombing in Jerusalem that killed 21 persons, including the bomber, announced last week that the United States was freezing the funds of six senior Hamas figures in Gaza, Syria and Lebanon, as well as those of five charities he accused of funding the group.

Those five charities, four of which are based in Europe, are different from the nine operating in Gaza. But one of the nine — As-Salah — said it received funds from the four European charities on the U.S. list.

The cash-strapped Palestinian Authority has cut many welfare services in the past nearly three years of Israeli-Palestinian fighting. Private charities, including Islamic organizations receiving large sums of money from abroad, have filled the void.

About 2,000 welfare recipients marched to the headquarters of the Palestinian Monetary Authority in protest yesterday. “We are not terrorists. Freezing the bank accounts is a crime,” read one of the banners.



Click to Read More

Click to Hide