World

Official: Abbas halts monthly stipends for Hamas ex-inmates

Dozens of Hamas activists once imprisoned by Israel did not receive their support payments this month from the group's political rival, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, a Gaza-based official said Sunday.

Abbas is under pressure from the U.S. and Israel to halt monthly payments to thousands of current and former prisoners who were held for actions linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel claims the stipends encourage terrorism, while Palestinians say they are welfare payments.

It was not clear if the missing money transfers meant Abbas decided to stop the payments to some of the ex-prisoners. A spokesman for his West Bank-based autonomy government was not immediately available for comment Sunday.

In the past, Abbas was reluctant to halt the payments, fearing a popular backlash. Support for prisoners is a Palestinian consensus issue, despite the political split between Hamas, which rules Gaza, and the West Bank-based government of Abbas' Fatah movement.

Abdelrahman Shadid, who runs a Hamas-linked prisoner advocacy group in Gaza, said dozens of ex-prisoners from Hamas had not received their salaries as scheduled.

"The prisoners went to the banks today and found no salaries in their accounts," he said. "We are waiting to hear from the bank officially tomorrow to see if this is a salary stop."

Shadid said those affected had been released in 2011 when Hamas traded an Israeli soldier for more than 1,000 prisoners held by Israel. Among those who didn't receive their stipends was only one from Fatah, and the rest were from Hamas, said Shadid.

Israel has imprisoned hundreds of thousands of Palestinians at one time or another since it captured the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war.

Currently, more than 6,000 Palestinians are imprisoned by Israel, for offenses ranging from stone throwing and membership in groups outlawed by Israel to attacks that killed or wounded Israelis. Several hundred are being held without trial or charges.