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Archive for Wednesday, May 10, 2006

U.S., allies to provide direct aid to Palestinians

May 10, 2006

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— The United States bowed to pressure from its allies Tuesday and agreed to support a new program to temporarily funnel additional aid directly to the Palestinian people.

A surprise statement by Mideast peacemakers, issued after a day of closed-door diplomatic meetings, did not say precisely how much or what kind of aid they would provide. But the agreement seemed to underscore a concern that months of withholding most aid from the Palestinians, part of an effort to pressure the new Hamas-led government toward a more accommodating stance with Israel, was harming the Palestinian people.

The new fund represents a slight softening of the hard U.S. line against financial engagement with Hamas, the militant Islamic group that has conducted numerous terrorist attacks. The United States, the European Union and Israel list Hamas as a terrorist organization.

The United States and European Union have cut off direct aid to the Palestinian government while pledging to help meet the crushing humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people through charities and other means.

Israel also has refused to transfer $55 million in monthly tax revenues it collects for the Palestinian Authority.

Overseas donations, mostly from Europe, have long sustained the cash-strapped and bloated Palestinian government.

The new fund is supposed to administer only money for basic human needs. But both European and U.S. diplomats said that at some point it might be used to pay salaries for urgently needed doctors or teachers or for other services that the Hamas government otherwise would be expected to provide.

Hamas won election in part because of a record of providing services that the previous secular Fatah leadership did not.

The aid cutoff has left the Palestinian government virtually broke and increasingly unable to provide basic services.

Some 165,000 government workers, whose incomes had supported one-third of Palestinian families, have not been paid for the past two months, and the World Bank warned this week of an impending crisis.

Frustrations rose to the surface over the weekend, when hundreds of Palestinians staged strikes and demonstrations in the West Bank and Gaza to demand payment, the first public signs of discontent with Hamas' handling of the situation.

Hamas-Fatah truce

Meanwhile, militants linked to Hamas and Fatah have agreed to work together to end the internal violence that has plagued Gaza, the Palestinian prime minister said today, after two days of gunbattles between the rival groups.

Nine Palestinians, including five children on their way to school, were wounded in a gunfight in Gaza City. Each side blamed the other for triggering it.

Then, Hamas militants attacked the funeral procession in southern Gaza for a Fatah gunman killed Monday, setting off two bombs and opening fire. Fatah gunmen dropped to the ground and returned fire. Three bystanders were wounded, hospital officials said.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh summoned Hamas and Fatah leaders to his Gaza City office for talks that ended early today. Haniyeh, flanked by Fatah activists, told reporters early this morning that the two sides agreed to put a stop to the violent clashes.

Haniyeh said the they agreed that "dialogue is the only language to solve our differences." Ahmed Helas, a Fatah leader, read a joint statement with a pledge to work out problems peacefully and expel any member who uses weapons illegally.

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