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Israel Targets Pro-Iraq Palestinians Over Money Gifts


TEL AVIV — Israeli security forces have launched a crackdown on a faction of pro-Iraqi Palestinians, charging that it is helping Saddam Hussein foment violence by giving money to families of suicide bombers.

Documents released this week by Israeli intelligence sources showed hundreds of payments that Israel says total $15 million to Palestinians whose relatives were injured or killed, including some suicide bombers. Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan personally directed the transfer of funds through an Iraqi bank in Jordan, according to the documents.

Rakad Salem, the secretary-general of the Arab Liberation Front, a small pro-Iraqi political party that distributed the checks, was arrested Oct. 2 at his office in the West Bank city of Ramallah. He was expected to be tried in a closed military court in Jerusalem on charges of supporting terrorism.

Most families of the dead received $10,000, but those of suicide bombers often got as much as $25,000--the more generous grant awarded, as one of the documents put it, "according to the decision of Commander Saddam Hussein ... in appreciation of their bravery."

"This is the infrastructure of terrorism that Iraq established in the [Palestinian] territories," said an Israeli security official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "The directions came directly from [Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein and his deputy."

Israeli officials say the crackdown is unrelated to rising tensions with Iraq and is simply a matter of accumulating the evidence. Some of the documents were seized during an Aug. 25 raid of Arab Liberation Front offices in the West Bank city of Tulkarm. But the timing is curious in that the Arab Liberation Front has been very public in its activities for nearly two years. The checks are typically distributed with much fanfare at public rallies in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

"The claims of the Israeli government about Saddam's support for Palestinians is part of the American campaign against Iraq. The Israelis want to speed up the military attack on Iraq," Ibrahim Zainan, a Gaza-based official with the Arab Liberation Front told the Palestinian newspaper Al Ayyam. He said that the organization plans to distribute an additional $1 million Monday to families of victims.

In the West Bank, Arab Liberation Front offices are closed and its senior personnel are keeping a low profile in anticipation of more arrests. One senior official of the political party, who spoke on the condition that he not be named, said that seven members were arrested during the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

The official disputed the Israeli assertion that the money Iraq is distributing is tantamount to encouraging terrorism.

"This is charity that we are giving to a family that has lost their son or daughter. Somebody who is going to sacrifice himself is not thinking about money. It is about their soul," the official said. He did not, however, deny Israel's complaint that the largest checks were going to families of suicide bombers. "The one who takes the initiative to be killed is worth more than someone who is killed sitting inside their house," he said.

The documents that Israel released included copies of checks to families of some of the deadliest bombers, such as Fuad Hurani, who killed 11 people March 9 in a Jerusalem cafe. His mother received $25,000 in June, according to the papers. Detailed lists classify the recipients into families of successful suicide bombers, families of suicide bombers who managed only to kill themselves, and families of those who were killed in other sorts of incidents.

The Israelis acknowledged that there was no evidence of payments being received before suicide bombings, but they maintain that the prospect of bombers' families receiving the money afterward is still an inducement.

"The terrorists who plan to kill themselves know their families will get money, and that adds to their motivation," the Israeli security source said.

In addition, Saudi Arabia is giving payments of $5,300 to families of Palestinians killed in the violence, but it does not make distinctions about how they were killed.

"We have every indication that the Iraqis are eager for things to escalate here in order to interfere with U.S. planning," said Eran Lehrman, a former Israeli intelligence official.

Since the Palestinian uprising began in September 2000, Iraq has evacuated Palestinians for medical treatment and sent aid. Iraq has also provided grants of up to $25,000 for Palestinians whose houses were bulldozed by Israel in the West Bank city of Jenin.

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