EU head office refutes claim aid to Palestinians funded suicide

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- The European Union's head office issued a strong denial Monday to Israeli claims that millions of dollars of aid to the government of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat were used to fund suicide bombers.

A report by the Israeli government made public on Sunday alleged EU aid money was being used to pay the salaries of hundreds of extremists.

EU spokesman Gunnar Wiegand told reporters the aid, which totals $337 million over the past two years, was being spent on civilian purposes only.

"The allegations made by the government of Israel are serious," Wiegand said, adding that the EU closely monitored where the money went and what it was used for.

Israeli Cabinet Minister Dan Naveh said some $9 million in EU aid was "used indirectly to finance terrorist acts."

Wiegand said that the Israeli claims lacked evidence adding that the EU would be open to investigate such allegations "as soon as Israel provides documentary evidence and shares it with us."

"The European Commission has imposed very stringent conditionalities throughout its programs and assistance it provides," Wiegand said.

Projects researched

Wiegand said that EU auditors and specialists from the International Monetary Fund checked all money going toward Palestinian projects to ensure it was being used properly.

"This takes place every month and we do not send money until we get the green light," he said.

Israel presented a 91-page report ahead of a meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and President Bush in Washington set for today to prove that Arafat was personally involved in terrorism.

Sharon hopes to persuade Bush and other world leaders that Arafat is a terrorist and should be excluded from future Middle East peace talks.