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US bars business dealings with Hamas government

Written by: Staff
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JERUSALEM, Apr 15 (Reuters) The US government said today it barred American citizens, US companies and foreign companies operating in the United States from doing most business with the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority, warning violators could face sanctions.

The US Treasury Department gave them 30 days to terminate ongoing contracts and programmes with the Authority.

''Transactions with the Palestinian Authority by US persons are prohibited, unless licensed,'' a Treasury Department document yesterday said, citing ''existing terrorism sanctions programs.'' Treasury Department spokeswoman Molly Millerwise said: ''Companies operating in the US are subject to US jurisdiction.

Likewise, US companies operating abroad are still subject to US jurisdiction and must abide by US law.'' The US Treasury Department made exceptions for the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the United Nations, authorising ''activities and transactions with the PA that are for the conduct of ... official business''.

The Bush administration has already barred US diplomats and other government officials from having any contacts with members of the new Hamas government, although contacts with President Mahmoud Abbas, Abbas's office and non-Hamas members of the Palestinian parliament were permitted to continue.

The Patriot Act and other US laws give the Bush administration sweeping powers to crack down on companies and individuals that provide any ''material support'' to Hamas.

The United States, like the European Union, lists Hamas as a banned terrorist organisation.

But the Treasury Department document made a distinction between Hamas and the Authority. ''The Palestinian Authority is not a designated foreign terrorist organisation.'' Fearing US sanctions, many banks are refusing to do business with a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority, pushing it to the brink of financial collapse by jeopardising its ability to carry out basic functions, Western diplomats and Palestinian officials said.

MEDICINE AUTHORISED The Treasury Department also authorised some donations of medicine to the Palestinian Ministry of Health by US-based non-governmental organisations.

Non-US citizens who maintain contacts with the Palestinian Authority could also face penalties, the document said.

Under the US Immigration and Nationality Act, foreign nationals could be denied a visa ''as a result of activities associated with terrorism'', it said.

Western diplomats said the Treasury document provides a measure of legal protection to staff of the UN, the World Bank and the IMF, who expressed concern they could face indictment under US law for providing ''material support'' to Hamas.

The document states that the US State Department, ''under present conditions'', would not consider dealings with the Palestinian Authority that have been authorised by Treasury to ''constitute material support to a foreign terrorist organization''.

''In exercising its prosecutorial discretion on a case-by-case basis, the Department of Justice will give due deference to the views of the State Department on this matter and to the Department of Treasury's licensing decisions,'' the document said.

The new restrictions do not apply to business dealings with individual Palestinians and other entities in the Palestinian territories.

REUTERS PG BD0435

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