Israel sends tax funds to Abbas government

Monday, July 2, 2007

RAMALLAH, West Bank -- Tens of thousands of Palestinian civil servants will be paid in full this week for the first time in more than a year, after Israel released millions of dollars in tax funds frozen during Hamas rule, officials said Sunday.

The transfer of the funds was Israel's first concrete gesture of support for moderate President Mahmoud Abbas in his battle with Hamas, which violently seized control of the Gaza Strip last month.

Dispensing the salaries allows the West Bank-based government to assert its legitimacy, disputed by the Hamas rulers in Gaza. Abbas appointed a new prime minister, Salam Fayyad, and expelled Hamas from the Palestinian government after the Gaza seizure.

The salaries will bypass employees hired by Hamas, including the 6,000 members of the militant group's security forces. Security forces in Gaza were told they would be paid only if they stayed home and refused to work under Hamas command.

Under Hamas, the 165,000 government employees had only received irregular, partial payments because of an international aid boycott imposed over the group's refusal to renounce violence and recognize Israel.

The Israeli government said $119 million were transferred Sunday, and Palestinian officials confirmed they received it.

Since Hamas came to power in March 2006, Israel had frozen roughly $600 million, mostly customs duties that it collects on behalf of the Palestinians under interim peace accords. After Abbas expelled Hamas, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the financial transfers would resume.

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