Fatah official accuses Hamas of stealing $700m from Gazans

Spokesman Ahmad Assaf strikes out at Hamas for not allotting reconstruction funds, says Mashaal is a burden on Palestinians

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Despite a recent rapprochement between the rival Palestinian factions, a Fatah spokesman recently accused the Hamas terror of stealing $700 million in charity donations that were supposed to help rehabilitate the Gaza Strip after the summer’s conflict.

Fatah spokesman Ahmad Assaf took to the media to ask what had happened to all the money in an interview with Al-Awda TV broadcast on September 15, according to The Middle East Media Research Institute, a Washington-based media watchdog group.

“During the Israeli aggression against our people in Gaza, the Hamas leaders in Gaza received $700 million,” Assaf said, according to a MEMRI translation published Tuesday. “This figure is well documented, and we know the money sources. Hamas collected money from all over the world. Where is it?”

“The Hamas leaders took it all,” Assaf charged.

Funding the reconstruction of the Strip has become a major issue following the 50-day military campaign between Israel and fighters in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. A number of Arab states and other countries have pledged money, but funneling money to Hamas, considered by Israel and the US a terror organization, has proved a major point of contention amid reconciliation talks between Fatah and Hamas.

Israel has also demanded that construction materials let into the Strip be monitored, jittery that they might be used to rebuild military infrastructure.

Gazan officials estimate reconstruction costs at almost $8 billion.

A major donor conference planned by the Palestinian Authority to raise money for the Strip is scheduled for later this month in Norway.

It was not immediately clear where Assaf’s $700 million figure came from.

The two factions came to a reconciliation agreement in June, ending seven years of bad blood after the Palestinian Authority was ousted from Gaza by Hamas. The detente seemed to hit a roadblock during the summer conflict, but last week the sides announced they had decided to continue on the path to reconciliation following talks in Cairo.

Speaking before that agreement, Assaf in the interview lashed out at Gaza’s de facto rulers for their duplicity in negotiations.

“We have become accustomed to Hamas being two-faced,” he said. “In public, they talk big, and use violent terms. But behind closed doors, especially when talking to the Israelis and Americans, they use soft and subdued language.”

He directly accused Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, living in exile in Qatar, of being an unbearable burden on the Palestinian people.

“The bill for Khaled Mashaal’s accommodation has become too steep for the Palestinian people. We are paying this bill with the blood of our children, women, and elderly. Khaled Mashaal should return to the Gaza Strip. Why doesn’t Mashaal return to Gaza?”

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