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Probe of Bank Records Prompts Controversy in Lebanon, Jordan - 2003-09-24

A U.S.-led effort to crack down on the bank accounts of militant groups, including Hamas, is causing controversy in Lebanon and Jordan. The issue of bank records in Lebanon and Jordan is causing an uproar among politicians, Palestinians, and militants.

On September 8, Lebanon's central bank asked all Lebanese banks to disclose the accounts of six leaders of Hamas and five associations linked to the group.

The central bank investigation sparked accusations from a former central bank governor, and from the current information minister, that the government was threatening the country's bank secrecy policies.

A month earlier, U.S. President George Bush announced that the United States had frozen the assets of the six Hamas members and the five associations and asked other countries to do the same. Similar steps have been taken by the European Union. Egypt is also investigating bank records.

But former Lebanese central-bank governor Edmond Naim criticized the Beirut government Tuesday for, in his view, going along with American views of Hamas. The group is on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations.

The Lebanese daily newspaper As-Safir called the central bank's move a fatal mistake.

But the central bank issued a statement saying the directive did not violate Lebanon's banking secrecy laws and that no bank accounts linked to Hamas had been frozen.

Jordan initially agreed to ban banks from dealing with the six Hamas leaders and the five associations, but reversed that decision last week following public anger. But members of the Jordanian parliament are saying the country will likely reinstate the ban.

Government leaders in the kingdom, this week, said the country will not jeopardize its relations with the United States over the issue of Hamas. And, they say, the group has no assets in Jordan.

Washington has said cutting off the flow of funds to Hamas and other groups like it, is critical in reducing their ability to carry out terrorist attacks.