Tehran pledged further $50m, Zahhar says

news3.jpgRAMALLAH — Having brought in $20 million in cash Wednesday, Palestinian Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahhar yesterday announced he had received pledges for a further $50 million from Iran on his weekslong recent tour of the Muslim world and China.

In Cairo, meanwhile, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas described an EU mechanism for providing aid to Palestinians as inadequate and rejected any talk of replacing the government of Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.

Ongoing talks between Abbas’ Fateh and Haniyeh’s Hamas factions are reportedly nearing a compromise that would avoid a referendum showdown between the two. Reports have suggested that one possible scenario would see Hamas relinquish government in favour of either a national unity government with Fateh or a government made up of independents.

But Abbas yesterday said such talk was premature.

“It is still too early to talk about this,” Abbas told reporters after meeting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. But, “if we agree [in inter-factional talks], that’s better for us and for the Palestinian people, and there won’t be any need for the referendum.”

Abbas also criticised an EU funding mechanism that European Union leaders endorsed Friday and that is set to come into operation next month.

The EU commission has been trying to design a mechanism that would funnel much-needed funds to Palestinians without the money going to the Hamas-led government.

“The mechanism is I believe not adequate because the funds must go through the government,” Abbas said. “Though we consider this a step forward, it is not enough at all because it cancels the role of the government and cancels the role of the Palestinian Authority,” he added.

That was a message Zahhar echoed in Gaza, and he called on the EU to deal directly with the Palestinian government.

“This [funding mechanism] is a positive step for the Palestinian people who are in urgent need,” he said. “But at the same time it condemns EU attitudes towards Palestinian democracy.”

Zahhar also announced he had received a pledge from Tehran to provide the PA with $50 million in funds as well as two airplanes, 300 cars and two hospitals. Zahhar described his tour, which took in Pakistan, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, China and Syria in addition to Iran, as a success.

“What we saw during our dealings with the Islamic countries proves to us we belong to a great Islamic nation,” Zahhar said Saturday.

The Palestinian foreign minister also rebuffed EU criticism of his bringing in $20 million in cash through the EU-monitored Rafah crossing Wednesday.

EU monitors have reportedly filed an official complaint with Abbas and threatened to withdraw their mission. In addition to Zahhar, the information minister, Yusef Rizqa, brought in $2 million in cash Thursday. According to the EU, no traveller is allowed to bring in more than $2,000 in cash.

But Zahhar was unrepentant.

“We will continue bringing in money through the Rafah crossing,” he said. “It is legal and we will not let anyone keep milk from our children and medicine from our sick.”

Meanwhile, leaders of both Hamas and Fateh said inter-factional talks were progressing well. This came after weeks of clashes between rival gunmen in Gaza have left about 20 dead.

“The national dialogue is developing into an agreement and within two days there will be a signing on the Prisoners’ Document which will become the national consensus,” said Parliament Speaker Aziz Dweik, who is from Hamas.

A Fateh spokesman said he hoped an agreement between the factions could lead to a dramatic improvement in the situation.

“The atmosphere is positive but nobody should preempt the final result,” said Tawfiq Abu Khoussa.

One source quoted by AFP said a main sticking point was over whether negotiations with Israel would remain under the PLO, in which Hamas plays no part. 

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