Archive for Thursday, March 20, 2008

Abbas aide caught with smuggled goods

March 20, 2008

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— A top aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was caught at a border crossing with 3,000 contraband cell phones in his car, bringing embarrassment for an administration already struggling with sagging popularity over stalled peace talks with Israel.

The aide, interim Palestinian President Rauhi Fattouh, said Wednesday he was unaware of the illicit phones and cigarettes found by Israeli officials and blamed his driver of several years.

But with cell phones and cigarettes selling in the West Bank for a premium over their cost in neighboring Jordan, the smuggling case could be a new snag for Abbas' Fatah movement. A voter revolt against official corruption led to Fatah's election defeat by the Islamic militant Hamas two years ago.

In a statement late Wednesday, Abbas' office said Fattouh had been suspended from his duties at his request. Abbas had no further comment.

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