JERUSALEM, (Reuters) – Israel transferred $100 million in withheld Palestinian tax revenues to President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday, part of a U.S.-led push to bolster the moderate leader, Israeli officials said.
The transfer was the first by Israel since Hamas, whose charter calls for the Jewish state’s destruction, came to power last year. The United States has been pressing Israel to take steps to help strengthen Abbas of Fatah in his power struggle with Hamas Islamists.
“The money has been transferred,” a senior official in Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s office said.
Israeli officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, have said the money would be earmarked for humanitarian needs and a U.S.-backed programme to strengthen Abbas’s presidential guard.
A senior aide to Abbas, Saeb Erekat, said the funds would be channelled towards humanitarian projects and the private sector, but declined to say whether any would go towards boosting Abbas’s security.
The Israeli government decided last February to halt the tax revenue transfers, estimated at $50 million to $60 million per month, after Hamas Islamists beat Abbas’s Fatah movement in parliamentary elections a year ago.
A senior Israeli government official said on Thursday the $100 million will not be used by Abbas to make long-overdue salary payments to Palestinian public sector workers, hard hit by a Western and an Israeli embargo of the Hamas-led government.