WASHINGTON, May 6 (UPI) -- The Israeli government released documents Monday its officials said traced a money trail from Saudi Arabia's Interior Ministry to Palestinian groups planning attacks on Israel.
The Israelis said the new documents were seized in raids by the Israel Defense Forces in West Bank mosques and other Palestinian Authority buildings. Israel claims the documents indicate that much of the $130 million administered by the Saudi Interior Ministry has gone to extremist groups since the beginning of the intifada in September 2000.
"The Palestinian Authority themselves say the money is not reaching the families and the prisoners, it is going to Hamas," a senior Israeli military intelligence official, Col. Miriam Eisin, told reporters Monday before releasing an 85 page report titled, "Large Sums of Money Transferred by Saudi Arabia to the Palestinians Are Used for Financing Terror Organizations."
As Eisin spoke, Secretary of State Colin Powell was discussing possible ways to halt the Middle East violence and find a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict with Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al Faisal.
After the meeting, Powell told reporters, "We will be looking forward to working with the Saudis and other Arab leaders on all elements of our strategy -- the security dimension of that strategy, the economic dimension of that strategy, but most importantly the political dimension of that strategy."
In March, Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah pressed the Arab League to adopt a peace proposal that would end the state of war most Arab states maintain with Israel, if Israel ceded territory it gained in the 1967 war.
President Bush has repeatedly endorsed the plan as a promise for peace in the region, though Saudi leaders have refused to meet with Israeli leaders to further discuss the plan.
After the Saudi foreign minister's meeting, reporters asked him if he would meet with Israeli officials in town for Prime Minister Sharon's visit. As he was leaving he replied, "No, nyet and nein."
The documents released Monday purport a detailed relationship between the Saudis and Hamas -- an Islamic group formed in the late 1980s that the State Department has long designated a foreign terrorist organization.
Israeli Education Minister Limor Livnat was asked repeatedly whether Israel, in light of the documents, believed that Saudi Arabia was sponsoring terrorism. But the senior Likud member did not go that far. "We still hope that Saudi Arabia will be part of the peace coalition in the Middle East," she said.
On Sunday, Powell said on NBC's television program Meet the Press that the Saudis maintain the contributions were going "to UNRA, the United Nations Relief Agency, and going for humanitarian purposes to families, and not a reward for suicide bombing, but taking care of people in need." Asked if he believed them, Powell replied, "From what I have heard, yes."
However, a Dec. 30, 2000 letter said to be from Mahmoud Abbas, known as Abu Mazen, the Palestinian ambassador to Saudi Arabia, to the Saudi governor of the Riyadh province, Emir Salman Bo Abed al Aziz, complains that Saudi money is going to charities controlled by Hamas.
"The Saudi committee responsible for transferring the contributions to beneficiaries is sending large sums to radical committees and associations, including the Islamic Association which belongs to Hamas, the al Atzlach Association and brothers belonging to the Jihad in all areas," said the letter supplied by Israel.
Abu Mazen allegedly added, "This has a bad effect on the domestic situation."
Another document distributed by the Israelis purportedly shows Yasser Arafat's own frustration with the Saudi money going to Hamas and not through his own Palestinian Authority.
A media news summary of a Jan. 7, 2001 Middle East Broadcasting Corporation news cast in which the Saudi interior minister boasted that almost $124 million were paid to families of al Aqsa martyrs, includes what the Israelis say is Arafat's handwritten note that says, "Please inform me where did this money go to and who received it, since the martyrs and wounded received nothing."
In the Israeli report, Iraq pledges $25,000 to each family of a suicide bomber. It says Saudi Arabia follows with $5,300 per family and the Palestinian Authority has pledged $2,000 for the families. There are also donations from Qatar and the United Arab Emirates of $500 each listed. According to the Israelis, the total funds going to families of suicide bombers equals $33,000 -- about six times the annual salary for most Palestinians.
Palestinians have charged that the report is dubious. According to the Palestine Media Center, "Not only are many documents unclear as to the origin, all of them without exception are intentionally inaccurately translated to suit the black propaganda goals. Additionally, many other supposed documents were not provided in the original Arabic, thus raising doubts as to their existence."
The release of the documents coincides with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's visit Monday with Secretary of State Colin Powell and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. But observers say the timing of the release looks like an attempt to influence U.S. public opinion.
Sharon is scheduled to meet President Bush at the White House Tuesday.