April 17, 2006 in Nation/World

Ahmadinejad pledges aid for Palestinians

Nasser Karimi Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, right, meets with exiled Palestinian Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, left, during a meeting in Tehran, Iran, on Sunday.
(Full-size photo)

TEHRAN, Iran – Iran said Sunday it would give the Palestinian Authority $50 million in aid, moving in for the first time with money after the United States and Europe cut off funding to the Hamas-led government.

Iran has long had close ties to the Islamic militant movement Hamas and is believed to have given money to the movement in the past – though the Shiite clerical-led government in Tehran has denied that, saying its support has only been moral.

But the new money, if given, would be the first time Iran has provided funds to the Palestinian Authority, the government in the West Bank and Gaza Strip that until now was led by the moderate Fatah movement. Fatah carried out peace negotiations with Israel, a policy shunned by Iran.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki announced the aid package Sunday during a conference held in Tehran in support of the Palestinians. Tehran had previously promised to help the Palestinians if other international funds were cut off, but Sunday’s remarks were the first time Iran has specified an amount.

Mottaki said the pledge was based on a long-standing policy to support the Palestinians, Iranian state television reported.

“Cutting the West’s financial aid to Palestine should not affect the will of the Palestinian people,” he was quoted as saying.

Iran’s hard-line president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, called for other Islamic nations to give money as he met with Hamas political leader Khaled Mashaal.

“Muslim governments and nations should provide comprehensive support to the Palestinian government to liberate Jerusalem,” Ahmadinejad said.

The funding could increase Iran’s influence with Hamas at a time when Tehran is also under international pressure to change its ways. The United Nations has demanded Iran give up uranium enrichment amid accusations from the United States and Europe that it seeks to develop nuclear weapons. Tehran denies those claims, saying the aim of its nuclear program is to generate electricity.

The United States and the EU have cut off hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the Palestinian Authority following Hamas’ victory in Palestinian legislative elections in January, demanding the group renounce violence and recognize Israel.

Hamas has asked Arab countries to provide funds. But despite promises to give the authority $55 million a month, Arab nations have not given any money since the Hamas election victory. Washington has been pressuring Arab countries not to give money, and some governments are wary of seeing the Hamas government succeed, fearing it will inspire other militant groups.

Up until the Hamas victory, the Palestinian Authority has received about $1 billion in aid from the West. Israel also has halted the monthly transfer of about $55 million in taxes it collects on behalf of the Palestinians.

The Palestinian government already is two weeks late in paying March salaries for its 140,000 employees, and it is unclear when it will have the needed funds. The Palestinian Authority is the largest employer in the West Bank and Gaza, sustaining about one-third of the population.

Mashaal reiterated the group’s refusal to meet the West’s demands, saying Saturday in Tehran that his government would “never recognize Israel.”

© Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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