Tue, Oct 17, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Hamas sees US money as trojan horse

AP , JERUSALEM

Hamas charges that a multimillion dollar US aid program is aimed at replacing its elected government, returning the moderate Fatah to power.

The US$42 million program has added more mistrust to the strained and increasingly bloody relations between the ruling Islamic group and the rival Fatah Party, both sides said on Sunday, further diminishing hopes that a unity government can be formed.

Hamas is accusing Fatah of acting as Washington's stooge in the region, contributing to worsening tensions that are threatening to spill over into a new round of violence.

The US State Department put aside the money last spring after Hamas won Palestinian legislative elections. The money, meant to "protect and promote moderation and democratic alternatives to Hamas," is among hundreds of millions of dollars in funds the US has allocated to bypass Hamas and help ordinary Palestinians.

The US, along with other Western donor nations, cut off funds to the Hamas-led government after the group took power in March, listing Hamas as a terror organization. Hamas continues to reject international calls to renounce violence and recognize Israel's right to exist, despite widespread hardship caused by the sanctions.

Although US officials say none of the US$42 million has been spent yet, Hamas officials accused Washington of meddling in Palestinian affairs. The "American financing" is clearly meant to return Fatah, which dominated Palestinian politics for four decades, to power, Hamas spokesman Salah Bardawil said.

"America is trying to consolidate its idea of a crusade launched by [US President George W.] Bush, and they want tools for this war," Bardawil added.

Micaela Schweitzer-Bluhm, spokeswoman for the US Consulate in Jerusalem, said the US doesn't send any money directly to Palestinian political parties. Instead, it provides funding and expertise to nonprofit groups, including those with ties to political parties not branded as terrorist groups.

"We build their capacity to make them more capable of participating in elections," Schweitzer-Bluhm said.

Hamas appears on the US list of terrorist groups; Fatah, led by President Mahmoud Abbas, does not. The US has embraced Abbas as a viable negotiating partner.

Still, Schweitzer-Bluhm said it was "misconstruction" to say that the US is trying to topple Hamas.

Fatah officials have sought to distance their party from the US, which is widely viewed by Palestinians as biased toward Israel.

Fatah spokesman Mohammed Hourani said the party doesn't accept US money.

"It [Fatah] refuses any aid from the US, whom we consider an unfair mediator," he said.

"This news harms the reputation of the movement and Hamas is exploiting this to attack us," said Ahmad Abdul Rahman, another Fatah official.

Still, many nonprofit groups dominated by Fatah receive US funds, including sports clubs, research centers, relief organizations and local councils.

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