Banks freeze accounts of Hamas MPs

Hamas officials say freeze orders came from Abbas's office; Abbas denies charge.

pals on truck 298 ap (photo credit: AP)
pals on truck 298 ap
(photo credit: AP)
The bank accounts of Hamas ministers and legislators have been frozen by Palestinian banks in the West Bank and Gaza Strip at the request of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's office, Hamas officials disclosed on Tuesday. The move follows Monday's attacks on several Hamas institutions in the West Bank by gunmen belonging to Abbas's Fatah party and members of various branches of the Fatah-dominated PA security forces. Hamas leaders claimed on Tuesday that the attacks, which began almost simultaneously in different parts of the West Bank, were carried out on instructions from senior officials in Abbas's office. Abbas's aides denied the charges, saying the attacks were a spontaneous response to a rocket attack on the headquarters of the Preventative Security Service in Rafah by dozens of Hamas militiamen. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the decision to freeze the bank accounts was in the context of international sanctions imposed on the Palestinians since Hamas took over the government earlier this year. "The banks have capitulated to outside pressure and threats," he said. "They are acting against the interests of the Palestinian people." Abu Zuhri called on the banks to decide whether they wanted to side with the people or with foreign parties. One of the ministers, Abdel Rahman Zeidan, said he discovered earlier this week that he was unable to draw cash from his account at the Cairo-Amman Bank. He added that when he asked the bank manager why, he was told that all the accounts of Hamas ministers and legislators had been frozen because of the debts of the PA government. Following Monday night's attacks on Hamas institutions, including the Palestinian Legislative Council offices in Ramallah, Abbas ordered his presidential guard, known as Force 17, to provide protection for all Hamas leaders in the West Bank. Hamas legislators in Ramallah were requested to keep a low profile, while others found shelter in Abbas's Mukata headquarters or with relatives living in nearby villages. The violence was the worst since Hamas won the parliamentary elections last January. Hundreds of gunmen belonging to Fatah's armed wing, the Aksa Martyrs Brigades, and officers belonging to the Preventative Security Service and General Intelligence set fire to some offices of the PLC and the prime minister's headquarters in Ramallah. The attackers also went on a rampage inside the offices of the Hamas-affiliated newspaper Minbar al Islah and another office used by Hamas legislators. Similar attacks were also reported in the towns of Salfit, Nablus, Jenin and Tulkarm. Hamas legislator Khail al-Rabi, who was briefly kidnapped, said he was severely beaten by his captors. "Dozens of gunmen beat me as I was standing outside my office," he said. "Then they covered my head with a black bag and forced me into a car. They drove for about 20 minutes before they released me in the outskirts of Ramallah." Rabi said the kidnappers identified themselves as members of the Aksa Martyrs Brigades and told him that they wanted to send a message through him to Hamas that they would kill all of them if they did not change their policies. Commenting on the violence, Hamas's Abu Zuhri accused the Fatah leadership of staging a coup against the Hamas government. "They can't wait to use political means to... topple the government," he said. "Instead, they have resorted to acts of sabotage against government buildings and Hamas offices." Former PA minister Yasser Abed Rabbo, who is closely associated with Abbas, called on Tuesday for the formation of a new government headed by an independent figure. He said the proposal was aimed at ending the international sanctions imposed on the Palestinians since Hamas took over. "This is not an official proposal and I didn't bring it to the attention of President Abbas yet," he told reporters. "The prisoners' document talks about the establishment of a national unity government and I think it's a good idea. We need a new government whose head and members are independent." Abed Rabbo said his proposal called for authorizing Abbas to conduct peace talks with Israel while the government dealt only with domestic issues. Former PA prime minister Ahmed Qurei toured the damaged buildings in Ramallah and expressed deep regret over the attacks. "These events have a negative impact on the image of the Palestinian people," he said. "These buildings belong to the people and no one has the right to destroy them." Meanwhile, PA Tourism Minister Judeh Murqus resigned on Monday night to protest the attacks. Hamas officials said Murqus resigned after Fatah gunmen arrived at his home in Bethlehem and threatened to kill his son if he did not quit the Hamas cabinet.