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Hamas officials say Iran to compensate funding void

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Gaza, Feb 28: Iran has agreed to provide a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority with enough money to make up for any cuts in foreign aid, a senior Hamas official said today (Feb 28, 2006).

But the official, Khalil Abu Laila, and other Hamas spokesmen could not confirm a report in the London-based al-Hayat newspaper that Tehran promised the group's leader, Khaled Meshaal, about 250 million dollars to compensate for the loss of US and European aid.

Al-Hayat quoted Palestinian sources in Damascus, where Meshaal lives in exile. Meshaal visited Tehran and other regional powers earlier this month in search of financial support for the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority.

"Iran has promised to make up for any cut in aid", Abu Laila told Reuters in Gaza.

"I do not have information about numbers but Iranian officials have announced they would be ready to fulfil all financial needs of the Palestinian Authority in case of aid cuts", he added.

Farhat Assad, Hamas's spokesman in the West Bank, said Iran told Meshaal during his visit that it was "prepared to cover the entire deficit in the Palestinian budget, and continuously". But he added: "We have not, though, heard of a specific sum of money". Palestinians are dependent on foreign aid totalling more than 1 billion dollars a year.

It is unclear how much of that money would be withheld by international donors once Hamas, which won the January 25 Palestinian parliamentary election and is sworn to Israel's destruction, forms a government.

Iran aid

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said any aid figures would be decided by the Iranian government.

"Iran has promised to assist the Palestinian people regardless of the US, Israeli and Western positions and regardless of whether international aid is resumed or stopped", Abu Zuhri said.

Iran said last week it would provide financial assistance to the Palestinian Authority, but has offered few details publicly on the amount of assistance it would be willing to provide.

International envoy James Wolfensohn has warned major donors that the Palestinian Authority faces financial collapse within two weeks because of Israel's decision to cut off tax tranfers.

Even if the Palestinian Authority survives the coming month with emergency funding from Europe and the World Bank, Wolfensohn said 'violence and chaos' could break out unless a long-term funding plan is developed.

Like Israel, the United States has threatened to halt direct aid to a Hamas-dominated Palestinian Authority until it recognised Israel's right to exist, renounces violence and accepts past interim peace deals.

Bush, who invaded Iran's neighbor Iraq in 2003, has branded Iran part of an 'axis of evil'. US and Israeli officials are concerned that Tehran, which also refuses to recognise Israel, will gain influence over a Hamas-led government, hampering efforts to reach a West Asia peace settlement.

Qatar's Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, whose Gulf Arab state is a staunch US ally, said his country will continue to support Hamas in industrial and health projects. He said that Hamas had come to power after elections "that were probably the most successful in the Arab world".

"That is why we must support Hamas at this stage as well as stress the importance that both the Palestinians and Israelis remain committed to the peace process", he said in remarks published today.

"We in Qatar will continue to support them in industrial projects and hospitals", he added.

Reuters

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