Palestinian Prime Minister Calls Western Aid Cutoff 'Blackmail'


New York Times

April 9, 2006

JERUSALEM, April 8 — The Palestinian prime minister, Ismail Haniya, called a cutoff in foreign aid "blackmail" on Saturday, and said his government would not bow to international pressure and recognize Israel.

"The attempts to strangle the government have one aim," Mr. Haniya told reporters in Gaza City. "They will not extract political concessions from us that will harm the rights of the Palestinian people.

"This is a continuation of hasty decisions," he added, "that will increase the suffering of the Palestinian people and provide cover for the Israeli occupation."

On Friday, the United States and the European Union, the largest donor to the Palestinian Authority, announced that they were suspending all financial aid to the new Hamas-led government because they regard the Islamic fundamentalist party a terrorist organization.

Mr. Haniya told the first meeting of his new cabinet on Wednesday that the Palestinian Authority was out of money and in debt. The government needs about $150 million a month for salaries and operations.

On Saturday, Israel initiated at least two attacks in the Gaza Strip, as tensions continued to rise over the nearly daily firing of homemade rockets by Palestinian factions toward the Ashkelon area in Israel.

On Saturday afternoon, two Palestinian militants belonging to the Fatah-affiliated Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades were killed and a third seriously wounded when an Israeli rocket destroyed their car after they had fired a homemade rocket at Israel, according to both the Israeli Army and Palestinian medical officials. Palestinian witnesses said the rocket was fired by a drone aircraft that was apparently tracking the men.

That night, an Israeli airstrike against a Fatah-affiliated training camp in Khan Yunis killed at least six people, according to local officials. Several people were also wounded in the attack.

Also Saturday, Palestinians mourned the six people killed in an Israeli airstrike the day before. The six Palestinians were returning from a training camp near the Egyptian border for the Popular Resistance Committees, an amalgam of gunmen from various factions that has carried out many of the rocket attacks.

One of the dead was identified as Iyad Abu al-Aynin, regarded as a top bomb maker for the group. Another was his 5-year-old son.

Israel has stepped up efforts to punish Gaza in hopes of stopping the volleys. The army has moved more artillery pieces into the area and has increased its barrages.

The halt to aid has been dire for the Palestinian Authority. In addition to the cutoff from the European Union, which gave about $600 million last year, and from the United States, Israel has stopped turning over the roughly $50 million a month it collected in taxes on behalf of the Palestinians, and Israeli banks are severing ties with the Authority.

Other Palestinian officials have also voiced outrage. Mr. Haniya's rival for power, President Mahmoud Abbas, said Saturday, "The Palestinian people should not be punished for their democratic choice."

Mr. Abbas, whose Fatah organization was swept from office in January elections, was in Gaza Friday night to meet with Mr. Haniya in hopes of ironing out their differences, particularly over control of various heavily armed security services.

But those tensions were evident on Saturday when the prime minister's convoy was turned back from a Gaza City checkpoint staffed by an officer of the Preventive Security Service, a Fatah stronghold.