Palestinian Foreign Minister Pledges to Keep Funneling Cash

Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar of Hamas, who returned this week from a seven-nation tour with $20 million in cash stuffed in his suitcase, pledged Saturday to keep funneling money through the Egypt-Gaza border, rebuffing European demands to stop doing so.

"We are going to continue to bring money in through Rafah crossing. This is a legal process. We are not going to allow anyone to prevent us," Zahar told reporters in Gaza, referring to the border crossing with Egypt opened after Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip last year.

Also Saturday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in Egypt for a meeting with President Hosni Mubarak, vowed to continue a 16-month-old cease-fire with Israel and denied Hamas had ever broken it.

Earlier in the week, Hamas militants fired several homemade rockets into Israel following a June 9 explosion on a Gaza beach that killed eight civilians, most from the same family. Palestinians blamed Israel for the blast. Israel was shelling Gaza around that time but has said it was not responsible.

"Hamas did not break the truce, although some violations have happened, due to the killing of the family," Abbas told reporters.

In a related development, the army general who conducted the Israeli investigation into the Gaza beach blast defended his findings Saturday, saying Israel was not responsible for the deadly explosion.

Three British newspapers — the Guardian, the Independent and the Times of London — on Saturday published reports alleging the Israeli account contradicted their own findings.

Maj. Gen. Meir Klifi, in an interview with Israel's Army Radio, passionately defended the conclusions of his investigation, saying he could unequivocally rule out that it was an Israeli shell that killed the Palestinian family.

"These are the facts. Whoever wants to argue with the facts, that is a completely different story," he said.

At a press conference in Gaza, Zahar promised to withstand European pressure and continue the flow of money through the border.

The Palestinians' Hamas-led government, nearly bankrupted by international sanctions, has resorted recently to bringing in cash in suitcases to help keep itself afloat — with two Cabinet ministers doing so this week alone.

The practice prompted a letter from the European monitoring mission warning that the entry of money through Rafah violated a U.S.-brokered agreement giving Palestinians control over the crossing.

Speaking in English, Zahar also praised a plan endorsed Friday by European Union leaders to channel humanitarian aid to the impoverished Palestinian areas, while condemning their funding freeze against the Hamas government.

Zahar also said that a recent Iranian pledge of $50 million, 300 cars and two aircraft will be delivered soon to the Palestinian government.

Earlier this week, Hamas said it was ready to restore the February 2005 cease-fire, which broke down last week after the deadly beach explosion.

Violence continued through the weekend, with Palestinian militants firing five homemade rockets into Israel on Friday. Israel retaliated later that night with an airstrike that killed two suspected rocket launchers in the Gaza Strip.

The 2005 truce greatly reduced Israeli-Palestinian violence that killed thousands of people in the previous four years.

The fighting with Israel has complicated an already difficult situation for Hamas, which is under intense international pressure to moderate and is grappling with bloody infighting against the rival Fatah Party of Abbas.