Gaza’s Hamas parliament approved a govt budget of $540m for 2010, legislators said, suggesting that a tight border blockade isn’t stopping the cash flow.
Up to $60 million stems from local taxes and the rest from “gifts and outside assistance,” said legislator Jamal Nassar. Iran is believed to be one of Hamas’ main financial backers, with cash assistance hauled through smuggling tunnels under Gaza’s border with Egypt.
Nassar and fellow lawmaker Yehia Moussa refused to provide a detailed breakdown of the spending plan, and it was impossible to verify that Hamas indeed has $540 million at its disposal.
However, a border blockade by Israel and Egypt — first imposed in 2006 and tightened after Hamas overran Gaza a year later — has not weakened the militants. With only humanitarian aid and a few basic items entering Gaza through border crossings, the tunnels are the main supply line for cash, weapons and a wide range of commercial goods.
Egypt is installing an underground barrier along its border with Gaza in an attempt to stop the smuggling.
The Hamas government has about 32,000 people on its payroll, including civil servants and members of the security forces. About $30 million of the budget would go to Arab residents of Jerusalem and Islamic sites in the city, Nassar said, without explaining how the money would reach its destination.
The budget was passed by parliament Thursday, without an immediate announcement.
In adopting a separate spending plan, Hamas further cemented the rift with the West Bank, run by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007, leaving Abbas’ rival Fatah movement in charge only of the West Bank.
Palestinians want both territories, which flank Israel, to become their future state.
The Abbas government’s budget for 2009 was $2.78 billion, funded in large part by foreign aid. Abbas’ Palestinian Authority continues to pay the salaries for tens of thousands of Gaza civil servants and security officers who were sent home after the Hamas takeover. It also pays for fuel to run Gaza’s power plant and supports hospitals and schools.
The Hamas government is also relieved of much responsibility because the United Nations runs dozens of schools, health clinics and gives food aid to around 1 million Gazans.
Earlier Saturday, Israeli warplanes destroyed two tunnels under Gaza’s border with Israel. The Israeli military said tunnels had been dug as part of plans to carry out attacks in Israel. The airstrikes came in response to Gaza rocket fire two days earlier on the Israeli border community of Netivot, the military said.
The Israel-Gaza border has been relatively quiet in the past year, since the end of Israel’s three-week war on Hamas, meant to halt Gaza rocket fire.
Abbas, meanwhile, said he is “reconsidering” security coordination with Israel in the West Bank. Both Israel and Abbas have a common foe, Hamas, and coordination intensified after Hamas’ Gaza takeover in 2007.
However, Israel also continues to carry out arrest raids in areas under Abbas’ control, most recently a week ago when Israeli soldiers killed three members of Abbas’ Fatah movement who allegedly had shot dead an Israeli settler.
The incursion embarrassed Abbas, who is routinely criticized at home for his security ties with Israel.
“Because of the manner in which Israel is operating we must reconsider many of the issues that we undertake with it,” Abbas told Palestine TV on Friday.
“We are not the guardians of Israel’s security; we are partners if they want to cooperate,” he said.