Abbas Shuts Hamas Charities in West Bank

The Associated Press
Monday, December 3, 2007; 2:14 PM

RAMALLAH, West Bank -- Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has closed 92 charities linked to Hamas, officials said Monday, part of an intensifying West Bank crackdown on the Islamic militants who seized the Gaza Strip and are challenging renewed peace talks with Israel.

Israel released 429 Palestinian prisoners to try to bolster Abbas and build on momentum from last week's Mideast peace conference in Annapolis, Md., where Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said they would aim to reach a peace deal in 2008.

Joy mixed with tears as buses carrying the prisoners, most from Abbas' Fatah movement, rolled into his walled headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Many had been arrested at the height of the Palestinian uprising several years ago, and were struggling with the transition to a new era of negotiations.

Ex-gunman Tareq Abu Lail, 24, said he hoped for peace, but doubted he would see success. Sentenced to eight years, he got out after three and said he was proud of his role in the uprising.

His father Yousef, 49, disagreed.

"The uprising is dead," he said. "We hope Annapolis will be the start of peace."

The release, the largest in three years, was meant to boost Abbas, who is trying to win over a public skeptical about his peace effort and beat back challenges by Hamas.

Since Hamas' violent takeover of Gaza in June, Abbas has moved systematically against the Islamic militants in the West Bank. His security forces have arrested hundreds of Hamas supporters, and he issued tougher anti-money laundering regulations to cut off Hamas funding from abroad.

On Monday, Abbas' information minister, Riad Malki, said the government in the West Bank dissolved 92 Hamas-linked charity committees.

The committees were formed by prominent local and religious leaders under the supervision of the Ministry of Religious Affairs. The committees collect money and distribute it to the poor, usually during religious holidays. They were ordered closed two weeks ago, but the announcement was only made Monday.

Malki said the committees were infiltrated by Hamas activists in previous years of Fatah rule. "They transformed the charity committees into financial empires to serve their political ends and activities," he said.

One of the committees closed by Abbas, in the West Bank city of Nablus, said it provided aid to 3,200 families and 3,000 orphans, at a cost of $212,000 to $282,000 a month.

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