Palestinians reject US charge of increased prisoner stipends

Palestinian protesters throw stones at Israeli security forces during clashes following a weekly demonstration against the expropriation of Palestinian land by Israel in West Bank. (AFP)
Updated 11 July 2019

Palestinians reject US charge of increased prisoner stipends

  • US officials have criticised the PA's prisoner stipends as fanning Palestinian violence

JERUSALEM: The cash-strapped Palestinian Authority (PA) denied on Thursday US allegations it had increased payments to families of militants in Israeli jails, and said the main obstacle to peace was Israeli occupation of Palestinian land.
US officials have criticised the PA's prisoner stipends as fanning Palestinian violence, and US President Donald Trump's Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt said the PA had increased those payments by some 11 percent in the first months of 2019.
"PA increased pay to murderers by over 11% at the same time as they slash pay to their government workers and police," Greenblatt tweeted on Wednesday. "More harm to Palestinians & to peace!"
The Palestinian Finance Ministry rejected the accusation as "absolutely false and hypocritical" and said Washington was lending financial support to Israel's occupation of the West Bank.
"It is known to everyone that Israel's illegal colonial settlements, funded by American taxpayer money, continue to be the obstacle to peace," a ministry spokesman told Reuters.
PA fiscal records reviewed by Reuters show no marked increase in what they refer to as "assistance for prisoners and detainees". Monthly payments were around 42 million shekels ($11.85 million) in December 2018, decreasing to 38.4 million shekels ($10.83 million) in April 2019.
Payments spiked to 75 million shekels ($21.15 million) in May 2019, which a ministry spokesman attributed to arrears payments and a bonus for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Civil servant salaries also spiked in May. Later data was not available.
The PA, which exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank, has been grappling with a financial crisis since it refused in February to accept tax transfers from Israel after Israeli authorities cut the portion designated for prisoners' families.
Under interim peace accords, Israel collects taxes on imports into the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip, an enclave under Palestinian Islamist rule since 2007, and makes monthly transfers of the proceeds to the PA.
The tax transfers of around 700 million ($197 million) shekels per month make up about half of the PA's budget, and the government has slashed civil servant salaries since March to weather the crisis.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has refused to accept the partial tax remittances from Israel, saying the PA is entitled to all the money under interim peace deals.
The mounting financial pressures on the PA have sent its debt soaring to $3 billion, and led to a severe contraction in its estimated $13 billion GDP economy, according to the PA’s top central banker.


Macron slams Turkey’s aggression in Syria as ‘madness’, bewails NATO inaction

Updated 19 October 2019

Macron slams Turkey’s aggression in Syria as ‘madness’, bewails NATO inaction

  • EU Council President Donald Tusk said the halt of Turkish hostilities as demanded by the US is not a genuine cease-fire
  • He calls on Ankara to immediately stop military operations,

BRUSSELS/ANKARA: Macron critizes Turkey's aggression in Syria as "madness', bewails NATO inaction

France’s President Emmanuel Macron has bemoaned Turkey’s offensive into northern Syria as “madness” and decried NATO’s inability to react to the assault as a “serious mistake.”

“It weakens our credibility in finding partners on the ground who will be by our side and who think they will be protected in the long term. So that raises questions about how NATO functions.”

EU Council President Donald Tusk said the halt of Turkish hostilities is not a genuine cease-fire and called on Ankara to immediately stop military operations in Syria.

Dareen Khalifa, a senior Syria analyst at the International Crisis Group, said the cease-fire had unclear goals. 

There was no mention of the scope of the area that would be under Turkish control and, despite US Vice President Mike Pence referring to a 20-mile zone, the length of the zone remains ambiguous, she said.

Selim Sazak, a doctoral researcher at Brown University, believed the agreement would be implemented and the YPG would withdraw.

“The agency of the YPG is fairly limited. If the deal collapses because of the YPG, it’s actually all the better for Ankara,” he told Arab News. “What Ankara originally wanted was to take all of the belt into its control and eliminate as many of the YPG forces as possible. Instead, the YPG is withdrawing with a portion of its forces and its territory intact. Had the deal collapsed because of the YPG, Ankara would have reason to push forward, this time with much more legitimacy.”