Kaddoumi: PA withholding money to undermine Hamas

Officials deny allegation; charges come as progress reported in unity negotiations.

Some Palestinian Authority leaders are depriving their people of financial aid because they want to undermine the Hamas-led government and return to power, Farouk Kaddoumi, a Tunis-based PLO leader from Fatah, said over the weekend. Kaddoumi's allegations enraged the PA leadership, whose spokesmen issued strong denials and accused Kaddoumi of forging an alliance with Hamas against PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. The charges, a reflection of growing tensions within Abbas's Fatah movement, come as Fatah and Hamas announced they are closer then ever to forming of a Palestinian unity government. Abbas and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh are said to have resolved most of their differences during intensive talks in Gaza City over the weekend. Kaddoumi, who is head of the PLO's political bureau and secretary-general of Fatah, is one of the few PLO leaders who have never recognized the Oslo Accords, arguing that the Palestinians should pursue "armed struggle" as the only means to liberate their lands. PA officials in Ramallah told The Jerusalem Post that Kaddoumi, who maintains close relations with Syria and Iran, recently forged an alliance with Damascus-based Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal against Abbas and many Fatah leaders. The officials said Kaddoumi and Mashaal had met at least four times in Damascus in recent weeks. According to the officials, Kaddoumi was also responsible for the botched attempt to convene the Fatah central committee in Jordan several weeks ago. The meeting, which was supposed to discuss the proposed unity government and internal reforms in Fatah, was called off at the last minute when Abbas learned that Kaddoumi was mobilizing committee members against him and his top aides. Since then, Abbas has taken a number of measures to sideline Kaddoumi, including keeping him in the dark on the unity talks and preventing him from representing the PA at international forums. Kaddoumi has long considered himself the "real foreign minister of Palestine" and has challenged the PA leadership's right to appoint its own foreign minister. In the past, he openly challenged then-PA foreign minister Nabil Shaath, sometimes even embarrassing him by appearing at various conferences and issuing instructions to PA embassies around the world. In a bid to undermine Kaddoumi, Abbas recently entrusted PA Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar of Hamas with representing the authority at gatherings in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. "Some leaders are hiding the money," Kaddoumi said, referring to the millions of dollars in foreign aid that continue to pour into Abbas's office despite the international sanctions imposed on the PA since Hamas came to power eight months ago. "They don't even want to pay the salaries of the civil servants. This is strange and terrifying," Kaddoumi said. He did not specify which leaders were withholding the money, but PA officials said it was clear he was referring to Abbas and his inner circle. Kaddoumi was quoted by the Gulf-based Al-Bayan daily as saying that "a handful of collaborators with Israel and US loyalists were receiving huge sums of money under the pretext of establishing democracy in Palestine." Kaddoumi was apparently referring to recent reports that the US had allocated more than $42 million to help opponents of the Hamas-led government. The reports, citing an official US document, also stated that Washington was supplying thousands of rifles to Abbas's Force 17 "presidential guard." The paper quoted Kaddoumi as saying: "We call on these leaders to release the money immediately because the people are starving and living under siege. They have no right to keep the money." Hakam Balawi, a senior Fatah official and close adviser to Abbas, dismissed Kaddoumi's charges as "nonsense." He also expressed doubt as to whether Kaddoumi represented anyone in Fatah. Meanwhile, Abbas's office received $29m. in aid from Kuwait over the weekend. Rafik Husseini, director of Abbas's office, said the money would be used to pay salaries to tens of thousands of PA policemen and civil servants. Two Hamas officials who smuggled $4m. in cash into the Gaza Strip through the Rafah border crossing last week have handed the money over to the PA Finance Ministry, sources close to Hamas said on Saturday. They said the decision to hand over the money was taken after Hamas came under fire from PA leaders and some Palestinians for continuing to smuggle large amounts of cash into the Gaza Strip. Bassem Abu Sumayah, director of the PA Broadcasting Corporation, had accused Hamas of "legalizing" the smuggling of money through the Rafah border crossing, noting that the cash was not going to official institutions.