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Palestinian Official Charges US with Political 'Blackmail' - 2004-02-04

A top Palestinian security official has accused the United States of political blackmail by refusing to help distribute aid in the Gaza Strip until Palestinian police arrest suspects in the deaths of three Americans. The Americans, all security guards, were killed last fall when their diplomatic convoy was hit by a roadside bomb in Gaza.

Palestinian President Yasser Arafat's security advisor, Jibril Rajoub, accused the U.S. administration of blackmail in pressing the Palestinians to find and arrest those responsible for the killings.

He told a news conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Wednesday the actions of the U.S. administration are not justified, saying that U.S. officials are punishing the Palestinian Authority, and that's unfair.

"You know that the Americans stopped their involvement, waiting for the results of the investigation. And I think this is blackmail," he said. "And I think that the Americans are using this case, this isolated case, in order not to be involved or to blackmail the Palestinian people and the Palestinian Authority, which is not fair."

Following the October 15 bombing, U.S. officials have stopped going to Gaza, making it more difficult to distribute aid for the Palestinians.

Mr. Rajoub said the Palestinian Authority is doing all it can to find those responsible for the attack. "I don't think you should blame the Palestinian Authority, but you should know that we have the commitment and we have the interest to solve, to arrest, to send those guys to the court, but we should not be blackmailed on this issue," he said.

U.S. officials appear unconvinced by Mr. Rajoub, saying privately it is inconceivable that Palestinian militants could have planned and carried out the attack without the knowledge of the Palestinian Authority.