Israel to loan Palestinians $230 million over virus losses

AFP , Tuesday 12 May 2020

In this Tuesday, April 28, 2020 photo, a sign in Arabic reads "the old town, the municipality of Kufr Aqab, ministry of local government, the state of Palestine," on a road in the West Bank village of Kufr Aqab. As the coronavirus pandemic gathered strength in April, community leaders in Kufr Aqab, a Palestinian neighborhood on the outskirts of Jerusalem, tried to impose lockdown and quarantine measures to protect residents. (Photo: AP)

Israel is to lend the Palestinian Authority nearly $230 million to help make up for revenues lost during the coronavirus pandemic, an Israeli official said Monday.

The 800-million-shekel ($228-million) loan will be distributed over four months beginning in June, said the official who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity.

Palestinian officials were not immediately available to comment on the arrangement.

Israel regularly collects customs on goods destined for Palestinian markets that transit through Israeli ports and distributes those funds to the PA.

But imports have fallen sharply during the pandemic.

According to the Israeli official, the Palestinian finance ministry requested the loan last month, and it was later approved by Israel's security services.

But Israel is also separately withholding money from the PA to offset funds it says are given to militants linked to attacks on Israelis.

In February 2019, Israel began deducting around $10 million per month from customs revenues collected for the PA, an amount it says corresponds to what the PA pays Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, or their families.

Israel says such payments encourage further attacks.

Palestinians view prisoners as fighting against Israel's occupation and say the money supports families that have lost their main breadwinners.

The Israeli official said the funds frozen over prisoner pay, which currently totals roughly 650 million shekels, would be given to the PA once prisoner payments stop.

Multiple banks in the occupied West Bank that had stopped handling accounts linked to prisoners faced violent protests in recent weeks, including in Jericho and Jenin.

In a statement, Palestinian prime minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said he reached a deal with the banks to "continue to handle accounts of prisoners despite Israeli threats".

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