Palestinian Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar Smuggles Millions Hidden in Suitcase Into Gaza Strip

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Palestinian Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar secreted U.S. $20 million (euro15 million) into the Gaza Strip in a suitcase Tuesday in what has become a common way for his embattled government to get funds despite an international boycott, Palestinian security officials said.

The Hamas-led government, which took office in March, was financially crippled by the boycott, which prevented them from getting hundreds of millions of dollars in aid and other payments and left them unable to pay the 165,000 government workers their full salaries. The boycott was intended to pressure the radical Islamic group to renounce violence and recognize Israel.

European governments, in an effort to bypass the government, has been diverting some money to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, a moderate from the Fatah party who was elected separately last year.

In an effort to keep his government afloat, Zahar repeatedly has hauled cash across the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Israel in recent months. The crossing is run by Abbas' presidential guard and observed by European monitors.

Zahar declared the stash he was carrying Tuesday on the Egyptian side of the border, Palestinian security forces said.

But Maria Telleris, spokeswoman for the European monitors, said he did not declare the money on the Palestinian side.

In the past, Zahar has received donations from across the Arab world. Earlier this month, Zahar said the Hamas-led government received more than US$120 million (euro91 million ) from Iran.