Israel raids charities accused of Hamas links
JERUSALEM, July 7 (Reuters) Alongside their Gaza offensive and detention of Hamas officials, Israeli forces have been moving steadily against the Islamic charity network at the grassroots of the governing Palestinian militant group.
Offices of Islamic charities that are widely seen as close to Hamas have been raided in the past few days in Nablus, Tulkarm, Bethlehem and Jericho in the occupied West Bank.
Much of Hamas's popularity has stemmed from its provision of services funded through Islamic charities, as well as its commitment to fighting Israel -- which it is formally committed to destroying.
Holding Hamas responsible for the abduction of a soldier on June 25, Israel has dramatically increased pressure on the group, which in turn accuses the Jewish state of trying to bring down its government. Hamas won Palestinian elections in January.
One Islamic charity in Nablus was told in an Israeli order that it must close for a year because of ''the need to fight terror infrastructure''. The zakat -- or alms -- committee was given 14 days to appeal.
''The monsoons are falling down on the all the zakat committees,'' said charity head Abdel Rahim al-Hanbaly. ''We are a humanitarian charitable commitee working by God's will to collect funds from the rich to give to the poor.'' The charity's organising committee includes two men known as Hamas sympathisers, locals say. Hanbaly said the charity had no political affiliation.
Israel says the Islamic charities are run by Hamas and support the families of suicide bombers and jailed militants.
''This financial and social support provides an incentive for terrorists to carry out attacks,'' an army statement said.
Israel arrested eight Hamas cabinet members and dozens of other officials last week to increases pressure on the group.
LINKS Palestinian political analysts said the links between Hamas and the charities were often tenuous, sometimes based on the fact that Hamas sympathisers served on the boards of the groups.
''There are some more closely associated with Hamas than others. But to say that it's an organisational link does not reflect reality,'' Palestinian analyst George Giacaman said.
On Wednesday, Israeli forces confiscated computers and files in a raid on an Islamic charity which assists 1,350 orphans in Tulkarm, said organiser Bilal al-Khamis.
''It's paralysed our activities,'' he said.
Computers, accounts and files were also confiscated in raids in charities in Jericho and Bethlehem.
Israel encouraged the emergence of Islamic charities in the Palestinian territories in the late 1970s and 1980s to counter the influence of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).
Giacaman said Israel's West Bank crackdown, together with its offensive in the Gaza Strip, would not damage Hamas.
''The long-term effect will be negligible and boost the popularity of Hamas,'' he said.
Israeli troops moved deeper into the Gaza Striye yesterday in their offensive aimed at pressing the armed wing of Hamas and other militants to free the soldier, who was captured in a raid into Israel on June 25. Israel also wants to halt rocket fire from Gaza.
Israeli troops killed at least 11 Palestinians, some of them militants, in Gaza yesterday.