US urges Israel to release Palestinian tax money
The United States renewed its appeals to Israel Monday, March 12, to ease economic pressure on Palestinians by releasing seized Palestinian tax revenues.
"We are looking to the Israeli side to ease the economic pressure, including turning over the tax revenues and easing some of the restrictions on movement," said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.
US Secretary of State Colin Powell discussed the issue over the weekend with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, foreign Minister Shimon Peres and former Prime Minister Ehud Barak.
Israel closed its borders with the West Bank and Gaza following the outbreak of Palestinian violence last September, preventing thousands of Palestinians from going to work in Israel. Palestinian officials also accuse Israel of not returning $400 million in tax revenues and customs duties collected from Palestinians.
The Palestinian economy has lost $1.15 billion since September, or 20 percent of its gross domestic product, according to UN Middle East envoy Terje Roed-Larsen.
"We'll continue to be concerned about the situation as we look to steps that they can take to, as I said, end the violence, break out of the cycle of violence, as well as ease some of the economic plight of the Palestinians who are in dire straits these days," Boucher said.
He said the United States had redirected nearly $57 million in aid in January to address Palestinian emergency needs. Boucher pointed out that US assistance doesn't go through the Palestinian Authority but rather through non-governmental organizations. — (AFP, Washington)
© Agence France Presse 2001
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)