U.S. Critical of Israeli Raid on Banks
By BARRY SCHWEID
The Associated Press
Wednesday, February 25, 2004; 5:42 PM
WASHINGTON - The State Department criticized Israel on Wednesday for raiding Palestinian banks in search of funds for terror groups without coordinating with Palestinian financial authorities.
Department spokesman Richard Boucher said, "We certainly recognize the need to cut off funding for terror organizations" but said Israel should work closely with the authorities who supervise Palestinian banks to ensure the money does not get to terror groups.
"Some of these actions that were taken risk destabilizing the Palestinian banking system, so we would prefer to see Israeli coordination with the Palestinian financial authorities in order to stem the flow of funds to terrorist groups," he said.
Boucher said the United States, Israel and the Palestinians, working together, have introduced better accounting procedures and more openness about the flow of funds over the past year and a half.
"That's been a positive thing, both for the Israelis but especially for the Palestinians, who see where their money goes and who see this being handled appropriately for the people who live in these territories," Boucher said.
In the bank raids on the West Bank, Israeli force seized at least $6.7 million.
Israel said Iran, Syria and Lebanese guerrillas had sent the funds to Palestinian militants.
Palestinian officials said the raid violated banking agreements and could trigger a run on the banks. "It's like the Mafia," Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia said. "I think it should be dealt with in a very serious way."
In another development, Secretary of State Colin Powell said there is a possibility that Israel and Syria may resume their long-suspended talks on a settlement.
"If the Syrians are serious, I am sure that the Israelis will listen carefully to whatever they have to say," Powell said Tuesday in an interview with a U.S.-financed television broadcast to the Arab world.
However, he said, "we really do need to see movement on the Palestinian-Israeli side before we can believe that we would get very far with Syrian-Israeli talks."
© 2004 The Associated Press