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Israel Releases $100M in Frozen Tax Funds to Palestinians

Israel is easing an economic boycott on the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority, releasing funds for the first time in 10 months. As Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, it is part of Israel's strategy to strengthen Palestinian moderates while weakening the radicals.

Israel has released $100 million in frozen tax funds and transferred the money to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. It was the first such transfer of funds since the Islamic militant group Hamas took power in March. Israel and the international community have imposed crippling sanctions on Hamas because it seeks the destruction of the Jewish state and is regarded as a terrorist organization.

At the same time, Israel wants to strengthen President Abbas who is locked in a violent power struggle with Hamas for control of the Palestinian Authority.

"The prime minister has been very clear about the fact that he respects the Palestinian president for the fact that he stands up and states clearly that he is for the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian issue through dialogue and not through violence," said Miri Eisen, spokeswoman for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

The transfer of funds is only 25 percent of what Israel owes, but Palestinian analyst Bassam Eid says it is a step in the right direction.

"I think that the Palestinian people will appreciate any country who will provide any aid to the Palestinians," he said.

Israel says the funds are earmarked for humanitarian aid in the West Bank and Gaza and to beef up security forces loyal to Mr. Abbas. But in a bid to keep the pressure on Hamas, the money will not be used for the salaries of 165,000 Palestinian civil servants who have not been paid in full in 10 months.

Hamas officials criticized Israel, saying it has no right to bypass the elected Palestinian government or to determine how the money will be used.