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Last Updated: Friday, 29 August, 2003, 12:06 GMT 13:06 UK
Hamas 'may escape total funding freeze'
West Bank protesters waving a Palestinian flag
European nations are cooling on the idea of freezing the assets of militant Palestinian group Hamas.

The idea of extending the ban on funding for Hamas' military activities, to include its political and humanitarian arms as well, is on the agenda for a European Union foreign ministers' meeting on 5 September.

The UK and the Netherlands are thought to be keen to follow the US's lead in saying that all Hamas funding must be blocked.

But other European countries are reluctant, partly to avoid cutting off lines of negotiation with Palestinians but mostly because of the degree to which people living in the West Bank and Gaza rely on groups like Hamas for health and welfare.

The final result, diplomats say, may be that more elements of Hamas have their funding blocked, but not the organisation as a whole.

'No distinction'

That may not help the charities which have already had their assets frozen.

Five were banned by the US last week, and one in the UK - Interpal - is now under investigation by the UK's Charity Commission.

I think it's very disappointing, given that the Charity Commission have been in regular touch with us very recently
Ibrahim Hewitt
Chairman, Interpal

Another nine groups have had their accounts - 39 in total - frozen by the Palestinian Monetary Authority, amid street protests saying many Palestinians would be left starving or destitute without the charities' help.

According to US Treasury officials, the US banning order is because Interpal channels its funds through groups in the Occupied Territories and Lebanon which fund Hamas's activities.

Among them are Sanabil, a Lebanon-based charity closed in July by the authorities in Beirut.

Treasury officials also said Interpal funded the activities of the Al-Aqsa Foundation, which had its assets frozen in the US and UK earlier this year.

"There's no distinction between money that goes to fund attacks and money for political and welfare activities," a Treasury official told BBC News Online.

"(Interpal and the other frozen organisations) fund these groups, they oversee their activities and publicity."

Lawsuits

But the groups themselves are keen to refute the accusations.

"We don't have anyone of our own on the spot," said Ibrahim Hewitt, chairman of Interpal.

"We operate through other charities. If there's a problem with them there, that's a problem for the authorities over there to sort out.

"Tell us about it, and we will co-operate."

Other groups named by the US, including the Swiss-based Association de Secours Palestinien (ASP), are threatening to sue. They say the US action is about intensifying pressure on the Palestinians rather than anything to do with terror.


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