Charity cash for Palestinian poor was siphoned to suicide bombers

Millions of pounds donated by British and other European charities to help the Palestinian poor were unwittingly diverted to fund terror and support the families of suicide bombers, Israeli prosecutors claimed yesterday.

Ahmed Salatna, 43, a Hamas activist from the West Bank town of Jenin, was remanded in custody by a military court charged with distributing €9m (£6.2m) for such purposes over the past nine years. The recipients are alleged to have included the family of a young man who blew himself up at the Sbarro pizza restaurant in Jerusalem in August 2001, killing 15 people and wounding 107. Hamas and Islamic Jihad acknowledged responsibility.

The charge sheet names two British charities, Human Appeal International and Interpal. Human Appeal is a broadly based fundraising organisation, currently helping victims of the Pakistani earthquake. Interpal describes itself as "a non-political, non-profit-making charity that focuses solely on the provision of relief and development aid to the poor and needy of Palestine". No one was available for comment at its London office yesterday. Other charities mentioned were the French CBST, the Italian ABSPT and the Al-Aqsa Foundation, which operates in Austria, Belgium, Denmark and Sweden.

Mr Salatna, who has directed an Islamic charity in Jenin since Israel released him in 1996 after serving three years for Hamas activity, was arrested in September. Micky Rosenfeld, a police spokesman, said Mr Salatna directly transferred the European funds to Hamas cells, suicide bombers and their families.

Mr Rosenfeld said: "Jenin is known as the capital of the suicide bombers. There is no doubt in police minds that Mr Salatna's arrest will be a major blow to those who rely on economic support from Hamas in order to carry out terrorist acts and to give their families financial backing."

Investigators were unable, at this stage, to link specific donations to specific attacks or other activities, the spokesman said. They were considering whether to seek the co-operation of Interpol and the British police.

In West Bank primaries for next January's Palestinian parliamentary elections, Marwan Barghouti, 46, a Tanzim militia commander serving five life sentences in an Israeli prison, won a resounding 96 per cent of Fatah votes in the Ramallah district. Other leading militants won in Jenin and Nablus.

Barghouti's success was hailed as a victory for Fatah's younger generation, which accuses the old guard that returned from exile with Yasser Arafat after the 1993 Oslo Accords of failing the Palestinian people.

Fadwa Barghouti, who visited her husband in jail last week, said: "This proves that Barghouti is a leader for his people and not a terrorist. It is a victory for democracy in Fatah. He told me if we succeed in democratising Fatah, we will succeed in democratising Palestinian society."

Yossi Beilin, architect of the Oslo breakthrough called for Israel to release him. President Moshe Katsav said there would be no early release: "Winning at the polling booth is no grounds for a pardon." he said.

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