Israel raids banks to track assets of insurgency groups

Special to World
Thursday, February 26, 2004

RAMALLAH Israel's military has launched an unprecedented operation to seize Palestinian insurgency assets.

An Israeli Army force, accompanied by security agents, raided 13 banks in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Wednesday for a search of money transfers to such Palestinian insurgency groups as the ruling Fatah movement, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Officials said the operation to seize insurgency assets was unprecedented in scope.

Money transferred to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers was also seized, officials said. In all, they said, 390 accounts were confiscated in an operation dubbed "Green Lantern."

Officials said that during a nearly six-month investigation Israeli security agents traced money transfers from Hizbullah and aligned elements to the 13 bank branches in Ramallah. The sources said Israeli forces arrested bank employees and forced them to help examine the accounts of depositors during Wednesday's raid.

An Israeli government statement said the military targeted accounts of Hamas and Jihad in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The statement said authorities also searched for funds transferred by Hizbullah as well as the accounts of insurgency commanders and fugitives.

"[Authorities sought] accounts of terrorists in Judea, Samaria [West Bank] and Gaza to which funds have been transferred from terrorist organizations, including senior terrorists who received funds designated for financing terrorism, and senior fugitives in Judea, Samaria and Gaza and their families when the account was at the disposal of the fugitive," the statement said. "In the context of the operation, accounts are being examined at various banks, which are suspected of receiving funds used to expedite anti-Israel terrorism -- from Hizbullah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad."

About 3.5 million shekels [$775,000] were confiscated from one account, officials said. In all, 37 million shekels [$8.2 million] were seized and officials said they would be transferred for Palestinian humanitarian needs.

About 20 Palestinians who tried to stop the Israeli force were injured. A senior military source said the transfers to Palestinian insurgency groups were not directly connected to Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat. But the source said deposits to charities linked to insurgency groups were connected to unidentified Palestinian leaders.

[On Thursday, two Palestinian insurgents attacked the Erez border terminal in the northern Gaza Strip. The two insurgents killed an Israeli soldier before they were shot to death by Israeli forces.]

Officials said several of the banks have been identified as the leading facilitators of financing to Palestinian insurgency groups. They said many of the financial transfers take place via couriers who arrive from Jordan.

Israel's military and security agencies have long warned that the Palestinian insurgency war is being fueled by Hizbullah and Iran. Officials said Iran has increased its funding for Palestinian suicide attacks in Israel, including instituting a new system that pays insurgents per Israeli casualty.

"The goal of today's operation is to impede the terrorist organizations' activities and reduce their financial capabilities on the ground," the statement said. "The operation is part of the comprehensive U.S.-led measures currently being carried out around the world against terrorist organizations."

[Later, U.S. officials said the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv has been in contact with Israeli authorities regarding the seizure of the Palestinian assets. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher urged Israel to coordinate with the Palestinian Authority on the transfer of funds to insurgency groups.]

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz ordered his aides to recommend how to transfer the seized funds to help Palestinian humanitarian needs. Officials said the focus would be to improve the infrastructure at crossing points and checkpoints as well as Palestinian health services, transportation for school pupils and food supply.

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