Accountability and Transparency under Hamas

May 23, 2006

The Hamas government was elected on a platform of cleaning out the rampant corruption that dominated the Palestinian Authority since its inception. It was expected that candidates would introduce the transparency associated with modern, democratically elected governments.

Two recent media reports would indicate that the Hamas government has not internalised the lessons of its own election platform. In addition, they highlight the hidden assets and resources of Hamas, and the way it chooses to disburse them.

As reported in our April newsletter, there have even been unconfirmed reports in the Kuwaiti media that US$450,000 was stolen from the hotel room of the new PA Foreign Minister, Mahmoud al-Zahar, whilst on a local visit to the country. Yet to be explained is why a senior minister might travel with a sizeable amount of ready cash, or where it came from.

And in May 2006, a Hamas official was caught by Palestinian border police, with 639,000 ($804,000) hidden in his clothing.

The official claimed that the money being smuggled past his own government's customs barrier was destined for prisoners held in Israeli jails. As previously noted by the Funding for Peace Coalition, these prisoners receive salaries and benefits through internationally funded official PA budgets.

The World Bank and others have warned of a looming humanitarian crisis, as internal and external revenues are drying up. PA employees have not received their salaries for two months. Meanwhile, the Hamas leadership has announced its priorities funds by urging supporters around the world to send it arms, fighters and money to back its fight against arch-foe Israel.

The evidence of Hamas officials traveling with large sums of cash on their person would indicate a flow of funds deliberately bypassing traceable financial channels. This may indicate simple corruption. Alternatively it may be part of a wider effort to continue to fund terrorist activities, leaving responsibility for the humanitarian plight of its citizens on the conscience of the international community.

What is apparent is that Hamas has access to external cash. It is prepared to exploit this aid illegally, a direct negation of its electoral commitments to its voters its posturing to the world media.

One of many reports about the border smuggling appears below.\05\05-19\zmainz\901.htm&dismode=x&ts=19/05/2006%2012:10:10%20

Tensions rise after Hamas aide caught with cash

Alarab Online - 19/05/2006

Rival Palestinian forces faced off briefly at Gaza's border crossing with Egypt on Friday after a Hamas official was caught with 639,000 euros ($804,000) hidden in his clothing, authorities said.

About 100 Hamas militants raced to the Rafah crossing, which is guarded by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's presidential guard, raising fears of fresh Palestinian infighting.

Abbas's elite guard also called in reinforcements.

The brief standoff followed gunbattles overnight in Gaza City between police and a new security force set up by the Hamas-led government in defiance of Abbas.

Four people were hurt in the first fighting since the force deployed on Wednesday.

The clashes sent terrified residents fleeing from the streets, where tension has soared amid fears of civil war.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called the emergence of rival security forces a "dangerous situation".

Sami Abu Zuhri, the Hamas spokesman who was caught at Rafah, initially refused to leave the border terminal without the money, which was confiscated by Palestinian customs agents.

But witnesses said he later left and the gunmen withdrew.

Hamas lawmaker Mushir al-Masri said Abu Zuhri was carrying "donations from Arab nations to the Palestinian government and it was meant to be paid for prisoners in Israeli jails."

Abu Zuhri, who is the spokesman of Hamas rather than the government, said he left after an agreement was reached for the money to "be released soon".

The Palestinian Authority is facing a financial crisis after international donors suspended aid because of the Hamas-led government's failure to renounce violence and recognise Israel since coming to power in March.

Israeli officials on Friday confirmed that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's top two deputies will hold talks with Abbas next week in the highest-level contact since Hamas swept to power.

Samir Abu Nahla, the Palestinian director of the Rafah crossing, said Abu Zuhri "was wrapping the money around his belly and that was an illegal act".

"According to the law, we have confiscated the money and an investigation should be held to determine whether it came from a legitimate source," Abu Nahla said, adding that agents have seized Abu Zuhri's passport as well.

Abu Zuhri said some of the money was in a bag and the rest in his pockets.

In the overnight clashes, members of the Hamas force, mostly bearded young militants who fought Israel in an uprising for years, surrounded the main police station in Gaza City and traded fire with security men taking cover inside.

"There is no reason for the two forces to fight. There is no dispute of authority," said Khaled Abu Hilal, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry.

Police accused Hamas of starting the clashes by opening fire on the police station.

The 3,000-strong Hamas-backed force, formed under the authority of Interior Minister Saeed Seyam, was deployed in a challenge to the authority of Abbas, whose Fatah movement was defeated by Hamas in the January elections.

In response, Abbas ordered the deployment of a Fatah-loyal police unit.

The decision marked the latest step in a deepening power struggle between Abbas and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.

The rival deployments followed growing insecurity in Gaza, with at least five rival gunmen killed this month.

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