Israel to withhold $138 mln from Palestinians over prisoner payments

Families of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails hold their pictures during a recent protest. (Reuters)
Updated 18 February 2019
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Israel to withhold $138 mln from Palestinians over prisoner payments

JERUSALEM: Israel said its security cabinet on Sunday decided to withhold $138 million (122 million euros) in tax transfers to the Palestinian Authority over its payments to prisoners jailed for attacks on Israelis.
A statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said the withheld cash would be equal to that paid by the PA last year to “terrorists imprisoned in Israel, to their families and to released prisoners.”
Israel alleges the payments encourage further violence.
The PA says the payments are a form of welfare to the families who have lost their main breadwinner and denies it is seeking to encourage violence.
Many Palestinians view prisoners and those killed while carrying out attacks as heroes in their conflict with Israel. Palestinian leaders often venerate them as martyrs.
Senior Palestine Liberation Organization official Ahmed Majdalani accused Israel and the United States, which has cut hundreds of millions of dollars in Palestinian aid, of an attempt at blackmail.
US President Donald Trump’s White House is expected to release its long-awaited peace plan later this year that the Palestinians believe will be blatantly biased in favor of Israel.
The Palestinians cut off contact with the White House after Trump’s 2017 declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
“The occupation government is seeking to destroy the national authority in partnership with the US administration of Donald Trump,” Majdalani said in a statement.
The move to withhold the money comes in response to an Israeli law passed last year allowing it to do so.
Israel collects around $127 million a month in customs duties levied on goods destined for Palestinian markets that transit through Israeli ports, and then transfers the money to the PA.
Netanyahu is running in an election scheduled for April 9, and has been seeking to shore up his security credentials in the eyes of voters ahead of polling day.
Earlier Sunday, Netanyahu said “today I will submit for cabinet approval the (legislation on) deducting of the terrorists’ salaries from the Palestinian Authority funds.”
“Security officials will brief the cabinet on the scope of the funds. This is an important law which we have advanced, and today we will pass it exactly as I promised.”
The $138 million will likely be deducted incrementally over a 12-month period, according to local media reports.
Sponsors of the July law on Palestinian funds wrote at the time that the PA paid around $330 million a year to prisoners and their families, or seven percent of its budget.
It was not clear what caused the reduction in the amount.
The Palestinians have already facing a cut of more than $500 million in annual aid by Trump’s administration, mostly to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.
The Palestinian Authority also said in January it will refuse all further US government aid for fear of lawsuits over alleged support for terrorism due to a recently passed US law.
Israel has withheld payments in the past, notably in response to the Palestinians’ 2011 admission to the UN cultural agency UNESCO as a full member.
The PA, which has limited sovereignty in parts of the occupied West Bank, relies heavily on outside financial aid.


Yemen president accuses UN envoy Griffiths of siding with Houthis

Updated 31 min 40 sec ago
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Yemen president accuses UN envoy Griffiths of siding with Houthis

  • Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi sent a letter to the UN chief saying he would no longer work with Griffiths
  • Letter accuses Griffiths of treating the militia as a 'de-facto government'

SANAA: Yemen’s internationally recognized president sent a letter to the UN chief, criticizing his envoy to the country over allegedly siding with Iran-aligned Houthi militia, the president’s office said Friday.
In the letter addressed to Antonio Guterres, Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi accused Martin Griffiths, the UN special envoy to Yemen, of undermining chances for peace. Hadi also warns his government would stop dealing with the UN envoy.
“I can no longer tolerate the violations committed by the special envoy, which threaten prospects for a solution,” read the five-page letter, a copy of which was released to reporters Thursday.
It also accuses Griffiths of treating the militia as a "de-facto government and as an equal to the legitimate and elected government” of Yemen.
The conflict in Yemen began with the 2014 takeover of the capital, Sanaa, by the Houthi rebels. A coalition of Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, allied with Hadi’s government, has been fighting the Houthis since March 2015.
The fighting has killed an estimated 60,000 people and left millions suffering from lack of food and medical care.
Tensions arose between Griffiths and Hadi last week after the UN announced the long-delayed Houthi withdrawal from the flashpoint port city of Hodeidah.
Hadi’s government accused Griffiths at the time of turning a blind eye that the militants had allegedly only handed control of the port to “militia leaders” loyal to them. The “redeployment of Houthis” from Hodeidah was part of a UN-brokered deal concluded in December.
Hadi went on to say that Griffiths’s “poor understanding” of the Yemeni conflict makes him unfit for his post.
While briefing the UN Security Council on the situation in Yemen last week, Griffiths urged the warring sides to maintain the momentum of the Houthi withdrawal from Hodeidah — the country’s lifeline to foreign aid — and to work urgently on a political solution to the devastating conflict.
There were “signs of hope” but “also alarming signs” that could threaten progress, Griffiths said, a reference to continuing clashes in the southern Dhale province.
Later Friday, Houthi leader Mohamed Ali Al-Houthi tweeted that Hadi’s letter to the UN chief was “a miserable attempt to curtail peace.”