Hamas expects aid money to be restored soon

Major bank begins granting loans to PA civil servants.

By RAFAEL D. FRANKEL
May 21, 2006 01:33
3 minute read.
haniyeh at PLC 298.88

haniyeh at PLC 298.88. (photo credit: Associated Press)

 
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As Palestinians queued up at the doors of Palestine National Bank branches across the Gaza Strip late last week to take advantage of loan offers, high-ranking Hamas officials expressed confidence that international aid money would soon begin flowing again to the cash-starved Palestinian Authority. PA Cabinet Secretary Gazi Hammed of Hamas told The Jerusalem Post in an interview in the prime minister's office here over the weekend that the resumption of assistance would come without any capitulation by Hamas with regard to the three conditions set by the international community: recognizing Israel, renouncing violence, and abiding by previously signed international agreements. "Sooner or later, we will pay their salaries," Hammed said, referring to the PA's employees. "But we will not sell our policies for money." That confidence comes from poll numbers, which show a strengthening in Palestinians' support for Hamas as the cutoff by Western donors continues, as well as the belief that Europe's demand to fund certain sectors of the PA signals a turning point in the continent's stance toward the ruling Palestinian party. "People in Europe can feel that this government is strong and won't surrender," Hammed said. "People feel that this government is not guilty, and we will soon find a solution." When asked how Hamas would pay the salaries of the 162,000 PA civil servants if the aid did not resume in full, Hammed said the problem was not finding money, but finding ways to get it to PA bank accounts. The US has effectively blocked attempts by Arab countries to fund Hamas by threatening to prosecute any financial institution that transfers money to the PA under US anti-terror laws. "The US believes they are the God of the world and they must punish our people," Hammed said. Meanwhile, on Friday, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri was detained by forces loyal to PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas at the Rafah crossing after he attempted to smuggle €639,000 in cash into Gaza from Egypt. Abu Zuhri was released after he surrendered the funds to Abbas's forces, which control all of Gaza's entry and exit points. During the interview, the cabinet secretary, who taught himself English while in Israeli jails, reiterated that Hamas was prepared to talk with the European Union and the US without preconditions. But he criticized the international community for taking Israel's side. "We can deal positively with the international community, but if they want to deal on the basis of preconditions, no. We will not recognize Israel and succumb to blackmail," Hammed said. "If the [international community] wants to sit with us and talk then we can explain things together," he said. "At the moment, they impose pressure on Hamas all the time, but they let Israel free." Meanwhile, PA employees crowded tellers at the Palestine National Bank on Thursday from the minute it opened, to take out loans the bank had said it would issue clients. The bank was giving out as much as NIS 1,000 in cash, to be deducted from the next salary check of its more than 30,000 account holders who work for the PA, said Hadel al-Haleli, the bank's public relations manger. On Wednesday alone, the bank loaned more than NIS 2 million. Dressed in olive green fatigues, Na'el Bakir, 39, a member of the PA National Security Force for seven years, walked out of the bank with NIS 500 in one hand and his six-year-old son Muhammad clinging to the other. Since he stopped receiving his NIS 1,750 monthly wages in February, Bakir has supported his family by selling his wife's jewelry and accepting gifts from friends. The NIS 500 loan would pay for food and the electric and gas bills. He said the money would only last around one week. "The situation was never this bad when the brothers from Fatah were in charge," Bakir said. "The government must negotiate with Israel and recognize Israel. It is [the government's] responsibility we are in this situation." Bakir said that if it continued to fail to pay salaries, Abbas should dismiss the Hamas-led government. "Please tell the international community to be on the side of the Palestinians," he said. "We're asking them to give us a chance and give us salaries. We believe in peace. Maybe Hamas will change, and anyway they did not get the support from all of Palestinian society."

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