Prove arms claim, Prodi tells Israelis

Author (Person)
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Series Details Vol.7, No.44, 29.11.01, p1-2
Publication Date 29/11/2001
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Date: 29/11/01

By David Cronin

ROMANO Prodi has called on Israel to provide evidence substantiating its claims

that EU funding for the Palestinian Authority could be used to buy weapons for attacking the Jewish people.

The European Commission chief says he "never had this kind of complaint" before it was raised by Israeli premier Ariel Sharon during the Union's recent "peace mission" to the Middle East.

"Not only are we uneasy, we are also surprised," Prodi told European Voice. "If there is any evidence, we would like to analyse it, so I asked immediately that if they have some complaint it should be sent to [External Relations Commissioner Chris] Patten's office."

Prodi has strenuously denied suggestions that EU money is being diverted

to firearms. The Union's executive is adamant that it keeps close tabs on how funds earmarked for the Palestinian territories are spent.

Providing €200 million in the past year, the EU is the world's biggest donor to the Palestinian Authority and, according to published accounts, the bulk of such funding goes to health and education projects, fostering small businesses and building political institutions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

An Israeli diplomat said he was "not sure we could come up with hard evidence" to support his country's claims. The allegations, he explained, are based on the premise that Palestinian police receive funding from Yasser Arafat's administration and that some of its officers have been linked to attacks on Israelis.

Another Israeli official claimed: "Arafat personally gives money to the leaders of Fatah [one of the movements behind the Palestinian uprising or intifada]. We know that he gives money to [West Bank Fatah leader Marwan] Barghouti, who then gives money to terrorists on the ground."

But Arafat's Brussels representative Chawki Armali described the accusations as "preposterous". He added: "You can ask Mr Patten's department and they can account for every penny that has been paid. The Israelis are trying to intimidate Europe. If they have any evidence, let them provide it and publish it."

Relations between the EU and Israel have soured further in the past week over the Commission's decision to issue a "formal notice" to Israeli traders. It warned that they may have to pay customs duties on goods exported from the occupied territories. The Union does not recognise the "Made in Israel" label on those goods and insists their designation as such breaches the EU-Israel "association agreement".

Meanwhile, Prodi has ruled out the possibility that the EU could become a mediator in the conflict between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, even though both he and Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt urged both sides to work towards resolving the dispute when they visited the region last weekend.

Prodi also said Pakistan's General Pervez Musharraf, who seized control of the country after a 1999 coup, had given repeated assurances that he wished to restore democratic government. "He is paying a political price and seems genuinely committed [to democracy]," added Prodi.

Romano Prodi has called on Israel to provide evidence substantiating its claims that EU funding for the Palestinian Authority could be used to buy weapons.

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