Tuesday, 4 December 2001

U.S. raids Texas charity called front for Hamas

4 December 2001

By Judy Keen and Matthew Kalman

President Bush, moving to fulfill his pledge to dismantle all terrorist groups with global reach, announced Tuesday that authorities had raided a Texas charity he said is a front for the Palestinian militant group Hamas. The announcement of the first U.S. crackdown on a U.S. group with no known links to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network underscores the administration's anger with Palestinians' role in Middle East violence.

On Tuesday, Israel launched a second wave of airstrikes on Palestinian Authority facilities in the West Bank and Gaza in retaliation for weekend suicide bombings in Jerusalem and Haifa that killed 25 Israeli civilians.

U.S. officials said action against the charity was accelerated after Hamas, which is on a State Department list of terror groups, claimed credit for last weekend's bombings.

Bush said the Treasury Department has frozen the assets of the Holy Land Foundation, based in Richardson, Texas. The group raised $13 million from Americans last year. Authorities closed its offices in Texas, California, New Jersey and Illinois. They also blocked the accounts of a bank and holding company with ties to Hamas that are based in the West Bank.

Bush said the money raised by the foundation helped Hamas recruit and train suicide bombers and support their families. "Those who do business with terror will do no business with the United States or anywhere else the United States can reach," he said.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations released a statement from the foundation denying that it gives money to Hamas. The statement said the foundation "has been unfairly targeted in the nationwide smear campaign to undermine Muslims and the institutions that serve them."

In a speech to Congress on Sept. 20, Bush said the war on terrorism "begins with al-Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated." Michael Zeldin, an official in the Clinton Justice Department, called Tuesday's action "the first objective proof" that Bush plans to go after all terrorists.

In the Middle East, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict appeared to enter a dramatic new phase Tuesday as Israel branded Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority a "supporter of terrorism" and stepped up airstrikes on Palestinian targets.

Two Palestinians were reported killed and dozens injured as Israeli helicopter gunships and fighter bombers fired missiles at eight Palestinian facilities in the West Bank and Gaza. Israel said the buildings had been used as terror bases. "All eight targets that were attacked were installations of security forces operating at the behest of the Palestinian Authority," Israeli army spokesman Ron Kittrey said.

Israeli security officials said a third of Israel's casualties in the past 14 months of violence have been suffered in attacks by "moderate" groups allied to Arafat.

Israeli bulldozers also wrecked the runway at Gaza International Airport. This move and Monday's destruction of Arafat's helicopters in Gaza City effectively consigned the Palestinian leader and other senior officials to the Palestinian-controlled territories.

Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat said attacks on Palestinian installations prevented Arafat from meeting Israel's demand that he round up terrorists. He accused Israel of "tying Mr. Arafat's arms and legs, throwing him into the sea and telling him to swim."

The Palestinian Authority said it rounded up more than 100 militants after the weekend attacks, but Israel said those arrested were not senior commanders.

Israeli officials insisted they had no intention of toppling Arafat, but they said Israel had put peace talks on hold until it had completed its "war against the terrorism on our own doorstep."

Making his first public comments since the Israeli offensive began, Arafat hit back at Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, telling CNN, "He doesn't want a peace process to start."

The new Israeli policy was hammered out at a stormy Cabinet meeting where right-wing ministers led by Sharon voted to adopt a resolution branding the Palestinian Authority "an entity that supports terrorism, and must be dealt with accordingly."

Labor Party ministers led by Foreign Minister Shimon Peres refused to participate in the vote. Peres told reporters in Bucharest Tuesday that his party might consider quitting Sharon's coalition if it tries to topple Arafat. Former Israeli foreign minister David Levy, a member of the Labor Party, worried about the Israeli move linking the Palestinian Authority with terrorism. "Is Arafat a partner, or is he our bin Laden?"

Palestinian leaders said Israel is making a grave mistake. "It is a most dangerous decision," said Hussein A-Sheikh, senior Fatah leader on the West Bank. "Israel now regards the entire Palestinian people as the enemy."

Keen reported from Washington; Kalman reported from Jerusalem.

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