Hamas leader condemns Islamist charity blacklist

Thu Aug 23, 2007 3:52pm EDT

GAZA Aug 23 (Reuters) - Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh on Thursday slammed a U.S. decision to blacklist a major Gaza charity as an attempt to weaken the Islamist group after it seized control of the coastal region.

The bank accounts of the al-Salah Association, one of the largest Islamic charities in the Gaza Strip, were frozen earlier this month by Palestinian banks after the U.S. government designated it a "key support node for Hamas".

"The decision is connected to the siege imposed on 1.5 million people in the Gaza Strip," Haniyeh said at a ceremony hosted by al-Salah.

Economic sanctions have been a centrepiece of an international campaign imposed since Hamas won parliamentary elections in 2006.

Palestinian and Western officials said this month that a U.S-backed campaign against Hamas was expanded to include Islamic charities that helped propel it to power.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in June dismissed the government led by Haniyeh after the Islamist group seized control of the Gaza Strip by force, and appointed a new cabinet based in the occupied West Bank headed by Salam Fayyad.

The Western-backed Fayyad has been trying to reduce the influence of Hamas and its welfare arms by building a government-run social services system using Western and Arab funds.

Haniyeh accused both local and international groups of trying to bring Hamas down.

"They imposed the siege because they did not want the Islamist example represented in Hamas to succeed in governance and politics," Haniyeh said, adding that Hamas would remain in power despite international pressures.

Officials in al-Salah, based in the squalid Deir el-Balah refugee camp in Gaza, say its programmes are open to all poor Palestinians, whether they are from Hamas or not.

The U.S. government said Hamas used al-Salah "to finance its terrorist agenda".