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Palestinian Authority Moves to Freeze Accounts of Several Islamic Charities

Officials of several Islamic charities in the Gaza Strip say they have had at least 39 of their bank accounts frozen by the Palestinian Authority, as part of reported efforts to crack down on Palestinian militant groups.

The Islamic charities reported Thursday more of their bank accounts have been frozen than perhaps some had expected.

The move follows reports that the Palestinian Authority had issued warnings this week to 12 Islamic charity organizations operating in the West Bank and Gaza Strip that at least 30 of their accounts would be blocked.

Banks in the territories received instructions from Palestinian officials not to allow transactions to organizations such as al-Mujma Al-Islami, one of the forces behind the establishment of Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, in the 1980s.

Hamas, which frequently carries out suicide bombings, is also involved in providing welfare to the poor in Gaza and the West Bank.

Hundreds of Palestinians attempting to pick up monthly welfare assistance checks were reportedly turned away Thursday by banks, which informed them the funds had been frozen.

The Palestinian Monetary Authority issued the orders, reportedly as part of a crackdown against groups such as Hamas, which was behind last week's suicide bus bombing in Jerusalem that left at least 20 Israelis dead and scores more injured.

The blocking move follows similar action in the United States. President Bush, responding to the bus bombing, announced that he was freezing funds of six senior Hamas figures and five charities that he accused of funding the militant organization.

In a separate development Thursday, Hamas fired a homemade Kassam rocket from the Gaza Strip, which landed for the first time inside a major Israeli city.

The rocket slammed into an industrial zone in the coastal city of Ashkelon, nine kilometers north of the Gaza Strip, but caused no injuries or damage.

Palestinian security officials said Palestinian forces had rushed to the area in Gaza from where the rocket had been fired, to try to prevent the Hamas activists from launching another attack.