Hamas member allowed back in Gaza after leaving $12 mn in Egypt

February 6th, 2009 - 1:00 pm ICT by IANS  

Rafah (Egypt), Feb 6 (DPA) A senior Hamas member trying to return to Gaza after talks with Egyptian mediators was turned back at the Rafah crossing by border guards who found cash in his bags totalling nearly $12 million.But Ayman Taha was allowed back into the strip late Thursday after Egyptian authorities insisted he put the money in a bank in the north Sinai town of Arish, al-Arabiya news channel reported.

Border guards found the cash - $9 million and 2 million euros ($2.6 million) - as they searched the six-member Hamas delegation, who were in Cairo for talks with Egyptian mediators about the proposed long-term truce with Israel.

The rest of the members were allowed to pass.

Egyptian authorities reassured Taha that he could collect the money at another time.

He declined to tell al-Arabiya about the source of the money, saying: “This is not the question we should ask. We should rather ask how much longer we will be carrying money in bags?”

“Isn’t it time to open the borders and lift the siege?” Taha told the Dubai-based news channel in a phone interview shortly after he passed the border into Gaza.

The Palestinian territory has a shortage of cash caused by the Israeli blockade and other sanctions.

Israel complains that Hamas smuggles money and weapons through Egypt into the Gaza Strip.

“I was just carrying the money for the Palestinian people who suffered from the war and the siege,” Taha said.

Earlier Thursday, Israel gave the go-ahead for a cash delivery into the Gaza Strip for the first time since its recent military offensive against Gaza, Israeli media reports said.

The reports said 175 million shekels ($42 million) would be transferred from the West Bank to banks in the Gaza Strip in order to pay around 70,000 employees of the Palestinian Authority of President Mahmoud Abbas.

Gaza is still recovering from the 22-day offensive by Israel which ended last month and left at least 1,400 Palestinians dead.

Hamas members are due to return to Cairo Saturday to give their final response to the Egyptian proposal. Egypt had originally set Thursday as the deadline for Hamas to agree to a truce in Gaza, yet Thursday morning Hamas announced talks will resume Saturday.

Hamas was seeking clarification from the Israelis on questions regarding the opening of border crossings into the Gaza Strip.

Also Thursday, chief Israeli negotiator Amos Gilad left Cairo after a few-hours visit for high-level talks with Egyptian officials concerning the truce.

Egypt is brokering a long-term, sustainable ceasefire between Israel and Hamas to continue the fragile calm in the enclave that went into effect Jan 18.

Cairo has been trying to get Hamas to agree to a deal which would end Palestinian arms smuggling into Gaza, an Israeli key demand, and reopen the coastal enclave’s border crossing, one of Hamas’ key demands.

Israel continues to seek an open-ended truce and has said that negotiations on the blockade would only follow progress on negotiations on the release of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier captured near Gaza in June 2006.

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