Iran General NewsTehran largest donor in £500m Muslim pledges to Palestinians

Tehran largest donor in £500m Muslim pledges to Palestinians

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The Guardian: Iran has become the single biggest donor to the Palestinian Authority, replacing the European Union, according to a senior official in the Hamas government. The Guardian

Conal Urquhart in Gaza City, Ewen MacAskill in Washington

Iran has become the single biggest donor to the Palestinian Authority, replacing the European Union, according to a senior official in the Hamas government.

Ahmed Yusuf, an adviser to Ismail Haniya, the Palestinian prime minister, said Hamas ministers had received promises of donations amounting to £500m in recent travels around the Muslim world. The largest pledge was from Iran.

This latest example of Iran’s increasing influence will add to the panic gripping the US, Israel, Saudi and the Gulf states about the speed of Tehran’s expansion as a regional power.

Their concerns have given a push to a new Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative announced by US officials yesterday.

They said the US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, who is in the region, is hoping to hold joint talks within the next few weeks with the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, and Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president. This would be the first serious attempt by the US to broker a peace agreement since President Clinton held three-way talks at Camp David in 2000 and at Taba, Egypt, in 2001.

Time magazine reported yesterday that Ms Rice is keen to head an ambitious peace initiative and has been in discussion with the Israeli foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, since December about putting aside the stalled step-by-step approach, which requires the Palestinians to dismantle their armed groups, and move straight to negotiations on a final settlement.

But there is no guarantee that Mr Abbas or Mr Olmert will attend or be prepared to make the necessary concessions.

An international boycott of the Hamas-led authority imposed last year has given Iran an opportunity to increase its influence. Previously, Palestinians were closer to Sunni regimes such as Saudi Arabia.

Last year Iran pledged to donate £125m to the authority to help Hamas survive the international boycott.

On Sunday, Yuval Diskin, the head of Israel’s secret service, Shin Bet, warned that international sanctions against the authority were forcing it into a closer relationship with Iran.

The European Union Border Assistance Mission, which oversees Gaza’s border terminal with Egypt in Rafah, said Hamas ministers have carried £28m in cash into Gaza.

Mr Yusuf said: “Iran is the most generous country. They have promised a lot and given a lot. We wish the Arab countries were as generous.”

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