Hamas spends $70 million in Gaza in challenge to Arafat

Thursday, March 4, 2004

Hamas has invested up to $70 million in social welfare programs in the Gaza Strip over the last two years.

A report by the Washington Institute said Hamas invested between $60 and $70 million in 2002 and 2003 for the organization's educational and welfare network. The investment was part of Hamas's effort to gain control over Palestinian Authority-controlled areas in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The report said that despite U.S. pressure on Arab allies in the Middle East Hamas has succeeded in maintaining its financial independence. The Islamic group has ensured operations of its huge welfare network through a web of charities throughout the world.

"Hamas is reshaping Palestinian society through the practice of dawa [a call to Islam], used to recruit and mobilize Palestinians," the report said.

"In Gaza, dawa has taken the form of a network of social welfare institutions established by Hamas. This network has contributed to Hamas's reputation among many Palestinians as a movement free of corruption, primarily concerned with their welfare."

The report was authored by Col. Zohar Palti, the former head of counter-terrorism at military intelligence. Palti, who has often briefed U.S. and other militaries, has been regarded as the leading intelligence expert on Palestinian insurgency groups as well as Hizbullah.

[On Wednesday, Palestinian Authority officials said PA Chairman Yasser Arafat has agreed to an international demand that Palestinian security forces be paid directly rather than through their commanders. For more than six months, Arafat had refused to agree to the new formula, meant to increase PA financial accountability.]

The report said Hamas's investment includes funding for its more than 100 educational institutions in the Gaza Strip. They range from early childhood centers to universities, including the Islamic University. The network also contains institutions that purchase school supplies for Palestinian children and an annual summer camp attended by thousands. Hamas has also invested in dozens of medical clinics throughout the Gaza Strip, the report said. The network includes institutions that offer free advanced medical equipment and medicine to Palestinians.

"Some of the same Hamas-affiliated charity organizations that donate millions of dollars to the sick and poor also support the families of suicide bombers," the report said. "Moreover, mosques can provide a convenient venue for incitement against Israel and recruitment into Hamas."

The report said half of the 24 mosques in the Jabaliya refugee camp are affiliated with Hamas. The mosques serve as venues for recruitment for suicide operations against Israel.

The main challenge to Hamas, the report said, is the Palestinian Authority security force directed by chairman Yasser Arafat. The report said the PA has about 25,000 armed personnel in Gaza Strip alone.

But the report said the PA has failed to replace Hamas's social welfare programs. The report said Hamas will continue to grow unless the PA responds with a large-scale education, health and welfare program found in most Western democracies.

"It is uncertain whether the creation of an alternative Palestinian social welfare infrastructure would reduce the level of terrorism in the near term," the report said. "In the long term, however, it would undoubtedly benefit Palestinian society and end the prospect of the fundamentalist and anti-democratic Hamas supplanting the PA."

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