Wednesday, 4 September 2013

End to smuggling leaves Hamas with cash crisis in Gaza

Gaza’s ruling Hamas movement is facing a serious financial crisis following Egypt’s military-backed government’s crackdown on the smuggling tunnels that move goods and people between northern Sinai and the Gaza Strip.

Because of a sharp drop in the tax revenues the Islamist group collects on Egyptian fuel, cement and other goods passing through the tunnels, Hamas is failing to pay salaries for many state employees in full or on time.

Long petrol queues and idled construction sites attest to an economic slowdown in a territory already under duress from strict trade and movement restrictions imposed by Israel, which controls Gaza’s northern, eastern, and maritime and aerial borders.

“It’s a real problem financially,” says Omar Shaban, director of PalThink, a research group based in Gaza City. “A significant part of the Hamas government income was generated from tax from the tunnels.”

In a territory with few exports, construction and revenues from the tunnel trade are two of the main sources of economic activity.

“The (problem) today in the Strip is fuel and money,” says an official with the Israel Defence Forces, which keeps close watch on developments in Gaza. “The shortage of money is the big question. We don’t see much money coming in.” Another IDF official described Hamas’s situation as “fragile”.

Gaza’s government is playing down its financial problems. On Wednesday Ziad al-Zaza, Gaza’s minister of finance, said the government was dealing with the crisis “wisely and in a balanced way”. He blamed the funding crisis on “the siege imposed on Gaza and the conspiracy of external parties that have been trying by different means to make the government and people surrender”. more (Financial Times - subscription may be required)

Dutch firm’s role in Jerusalem sewage plant would help settlements, Palestinians say

Dutch right-wing lawmakers have criticized the government for discouraging Royal HaskoningDHV from aiding Israeli settlements.

The lawmakers claim that the Palestinians and the peace process will be harmed if the Netherlands-based engineering company withdraws from a planned sewage treatment plant in East Jerusalem.

However, Palestinian organizations refute this and have welcomed the Dutch government’s intervention.

Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi stated that the Palestinian Authority (PA) has repeatedly expressed its “strong objection” to the project to Royal HaskoningDHV and the Dutch government.

The Palestinian Authority are not a partners in the project. Ashrawi describes the Dutch lawmakers’ claim that the project serves Palestinian interests as “erroneous and highly misleading.”

Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq also expressed its grave concern about Israel’s plans for a wastewater treatment plant in eastern Jerusalem in a statement I received by email yesterday.

The plant will “contribute to maintaining and supporting illegal settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory” and help to make “Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem irreversible,” writes Al-Haq director Shawan Jabarin.

The Palestinian rights organization reminds Royal HaskoningDHV of the Dutch prosecutor’s warning in another recent case that Dutch nationals and corporations “can be held criminally responsible for violations of international humanitarian law under Dutch criminal law.” Al-Haq strongly urges all participants to terminate any involvement in the wastewater treatment plant.

No permission for Palestinian sewage treatment plant

The Joint Water Committee (JWC) - consisting of Israelis and Palestinians - oversees and authorizes water projects in the occupied West Bank, excluding the Israeli settlements. Israel, as the occupier, has a right to veto decisions concerning Palestinian water projects in the JWC.

In 2010, the Palestinian Water Authority asked the JWC for permission to build a sewage plant in Ubeidiyeh to treat all wastewater flowing from East Jerusalem and Bethlehem into Wadi al Nar (Kidron Valley), excluding the settlements. The treated water would be used for the development of Palestinian agriculture.

However, Israel denied JWC approval for this vital Palestinian project. Instead, it plans to upgrade its own sewage plant in the same area, which is located near Nabi Musa (between Jerusalem and Jericho.) more

Israeli forces detain 5 during Al-Aqsa clashes

JERUSALEM (Ma'an) -- Clashes broke out between Palestinians and Israeli forces after Jewish rightists entered the Al-Aqsa mosque compound on Wednesday, locals said.

Local youths threw stones at a group of around 40 Israeli rightists who entered the compound, witnesses said.

Israeli forces responded by storming the mosque compound and spraying protestors with pepper spray, lightly injuring three women.

Five people were detained by Israeli forces and scuffles broke out between Palestinians and police guarding the gates leading to the mosque.

Israeli police closed all gates leading to the mosque and prevented worshipers under 50 from entering. They also stopped dozens of buses in Jerusalem carrying Palestinian worshipers to the mosque and told them to turn around, Israeli media reported. more