PA fears Rafah monitors will leave

Complain that guards don't check bags; PA minister smuggles $2 million.

A-zahar close up 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
A-zahar close up 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
European Union monitors stationed at the Rafah border crossing have protested Hamas's using it to transfer millions of dollars in cash into the Gaza Strip, Palestinian legislator Saeb Erekat told The Jerusalem Post Thursday. He said he feared the monitors would withdraw and the Palestinian Authority's only international border would be closed. PA Communications Minister Yusef Rizke crossed the border carrying $2 million on Thursday. A day earlier, PA Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar, returning from a visit to Muslim nations, brought in an estimated $20 million in 12 suitcases to aid the cash-strapped Hamas government. Erekat said he received a letter from Pietro Pistolese, head of the EU monitors at the crossing, protesting the cross-border cash flow. "I will bring this to [President Mahmoud Abbas's] attention tonight," he said. "We don't want to end up with them withdrawing, because if they withdraw it means they will close it." The monitors did not overtly threaten to leave the border crossing, he said, adding, "They are telling me they are not here to watch... millions of dollars passing without their knowledge." Since Hamas assumed power in March, many donor countries have stopped supplying funds to the PA government, which is almost completely reliant on foreign aid. International banks, fearful of losing their international accreditation as well as of US sanctions, have also ceased transferring funds to the PA. Israel and Western donor countries have refused to hand over or allow the transfer of funds to the PA until the Hamas government renounces violence, recognizes Israel and accepts past agreements with it. Increasingly desperate, Hamas has begun using its high-ranking officials to bring in huge amounts of cash, most of it assumed to be from donors in Muslim countries. Tens of thousands of PA civil servants have yet to be paid salaries for the three months since the Hamas government came to power, and riots by government workers demanding their pay are becoming increasingly frequent. The Foreign Ministry said it is increasingly concerned the incoming cash will be used to fund Hamas's military wing, not to pay PA wages. "It's not enough to fund the Palestinian Authority's government, but unfortunately it is enough keep a terrorist infrastructure very much alive," said ministry spokesman Mark Regev. "We have raised our concerns with the relevant parties," he said, but declined to elaborate. Under a deal brokered by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice last November, the Rafah crossing is monitored by European Union inspectors, while the Palestinian side is controlled by border guards loyal to Abbas. Israeli officials receive surveillance video of the crossing via closed-circuit television screens. The PA took control of the border after Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip last year. It is the only international border controlled by the PA. Using government officials as couriers to hand-deliver funds means the money flow into the PA can't easily be tracked, said Dore Gold, an expert on terrorism financing and a former ambassador to the UN. "Monitoring cash flows is extremely difficult, because there's no money trail," he said.