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U.S. Foiled Plan to Pay Palestinian Workers, Premier Says

Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas said Wednesday that U.S. pressure has foiled the latest idea for paying 165,000 government workers — transferring money from abroad directly into their accounts — and he appealed to Arab nations to counter the U.S. moves.

Reflecting frustration over empty coffers, Haniyeh told a news conference that the Hamas-led government has raised money, but so far has not found a way to get it into the Palestinian areas.

Public sector salaries are two months late, largely because Israel and the West have frozen the transfer of funds to the Hamas-led government, branding Hamas a terror organization.

"We have given alternative suggestions and plans, including what has been reported about sending the lists of the employees to the Arab League to have a direct transfer to their accounts," Haniyeh said, but "we even faced American pressure to prevent the direct transfer."

Haniyeh appealed to Arab leaders to face up to the Americans "to stop the siege imposed on the Palestinian people and to stop the political blackmail against the government." He also called on Palestinian bankers to "show the necessary patriotism." Banks have been hesitant to handle funds for the Palestinian Authority for fear of U.S. sanctions.

The government is the largest employer in the Palestinian areas, and the tardy salaries have caused widespread hardship. Salaries for March were not paid, and April payments are also overdue.

In the past, the West has donated much of the $1 billion in annual foreign aid that makes up much of the Palestinian budget. Now the West has said it will fund only humanitarian projects without going through the Palestinian government.

Also, Israel has halted transfer of about $55 million a month in taxes it collects for the Palestinian government.

Western governments have been looking for ways to turn control over their money to moderate President Mahmoud Abbas, who has been trying to curtail the power of the Hamas-led Cabinet. Haniyeh said it did not matter how the money reached the Palestinian government, as long as it would be administered by the Hamas-controlled Finance Ministry.

Haniyeh also spoke out against a plan by incoming Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to draw the border between Israel and the West Bank unilaterally if peace talks are unsuccessful, by completing a separation barrier, relocating tens of thousands of Jewish settlers and pulling out of large parts of the West Bank.

"We are in favor of any Israeli withdrawal," Haniyeh said. "If they are going to leave our land, we are not going to run after them and ask them to come back. This does not mean we are going to accept a de facto policy."

Haniyeh brushed aside questions about accepting an Arab League plan that would offer Israel peace in exchange for a complete withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza and an acceptable solution for Palestinian refugees.

"This era cannot take a new initiative," he said, blaming Israel for the impasse and repeating Hamas demands for Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, release of prisoners and return of refugees to their original homes, all without offering peace to Israel.