Hamas managed this week to bring into the Gaza Strip millions of dollars in cash that will be used to pay salaries to thousands of Palestinian policemen, senior Palestinian Authority officials revealed on Wednesday.
The officials told The Jerusalem Post that Interior Minister Said Siam of Hamas, who returned to the Gaza Strip via the Rafah border crossing on Tuesday, brought with him "suitcases stashed with lots of cash."
One official estimated that the suitcases contained at least three to five million dollars, while another put the figure at about $10 million.
Siam, who is formally in charge of the PA security forces, visited Egypt, Iran and Syria, where he managed to raise millions of dollars in donations, the officials added, citing "well-informed Arab intelligence sources."
This is not the first time that Hamas leaders have brought millions of dollars in cash through the Rafah border crossing, bypassing international sanctions imposed on the Hamas government. In recent months, two other senior Hamas representatives, spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri and Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar, also returned from a tour of Arab and Islamic countries with suitcases containing large amounts of money.
Upon his return to the Gaza Strip, Siam announced that his ministry has decided to give a grant of $50 to each policeman on the occasion of the Muslim feast of Id al-Fitr. Khaled Abu Hilal, spokesman for the PA Interior Ministry, said the grants would be paid next week to more than 20,000 members of the police force.
Hamas is believed to have collected at least $50 million in donations from various Arab and Islamic countries over the past eight months. However, the Islamic movement is facing difficulties in transferring the money into the Gaza Strip because Arab banks are under pressure from the US not to deal with the Hamas government.
In another development, representatives of Hamas and Fatah are expected to hold talks in Cairo next week in yet another attempt to reach an agreement on the formation of a Palestinian unity government, Ahmed Youssef, political advisor to PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh announced on Wednesday.
He said the talks would be held under the auspices of Egypt and Syria, which have tremendous influence over Damascus-based Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, Youssef said. "The two sides will hold talks aimed at reaching a quick agreement on a national unity government," he told the Bethlehem-based Maan news agency.
Youssef expressed optimism regarding the talks, pointing out that Haniyeh and PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas recently spoke over the phone. "Relations between the two men have improved," he said. "This has become a personal dispute between the two and it has nothing to do with the proposed unity government."
Reiterating Hamas's opposition to the formation of a government of technocrats and independents, Youssef said Hamas would not accept any government that is not led by Haniyeh. He also revealed that Egypt had withdrawn its support for the technocratic government idea.
Youssef confirmed that Mashaal was expected to visit Cairo for talks with senior Egyptian officials on ways of resolving the Hamas-Fatah crisis and ending the case of abducted IDF soldier Gilad Shalit.
The Egyptians, he said, had presented Hamas with new proposals for a prisoner exchange with Israel. "The case is on its way to being resolved, especially after Egypt came up with amended proposals that include the names of Palestinian prisoners who will be included in a prisoner exchange," he added.
Meanwhile, prominent Palestinian businessman Munib al-Masri of Nablus denied reports that he had been asked to head a new government of technocrats and independent figures as a way of ending the crisis. The London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi daily claimed that Masri had been offered the job and that he was inclined to accept it.
"I will not head any future government and I will reject such an offer when it is made," he told reporters, adding that he preferred to see younger people serving in any new government.