Hamas Launches Fundraising Drive on Web Sites, TV Stations

Arab League sponsors appeal for cash-strapped PA gov't; Al Jazeera: Hamas willing to recognize Israel.

The new Hamas government, cash-strapped and increasingly isolated, has turned to ordinary people for financial help, launching a fundraising drive on Web sites and Arab satellite TV stations, a spokesman said Thursday.

The appeal, which is sponsored by the Arab League, comes at a time when the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority is not only being shunned by the West, but Hamas leaders are also getting the cold shoulder in some Arab capitals.

Arab governments have been reluctant to make good on pledges of financial aid to the Palestinian Authority, apparently in part because they see Hamas as part of a global Islamic movement that is challenging autocratic Arab regimes. In addition, some Arab countries are reluctant to cross the United States.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar of Hamas was to embark on a fundraising tour of five Arab nations on Friday, but was expected to be snubbed by officials in at least two countries, Jordan and Egypt. Nevertheless, Israel Radio reported on Thursday that Zahar said he would travel to Egypt on Saturday. Other stops include Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait.

Hamas has acknowledged that it is broke and will have trouble paying the salaries of 140,000 government workers -payments that sustain one-third of the Palestinians. The March paychecks are two weeks overdue, and the Palestinian finance minister has said he is still tens of millions of dollars short of covering the payroll.

On Wednesday, Hamas launched a fundraising drive with the backing of the Arab League, an umbrella group that has no significant budget of its own. In appeals on TV stations and Web sites, donors were asked to send money to an account at the Arab Bank in Cairo.

The Hamas Web site on Thursday published a "public appeal to support the steadfastness of our Palestinian brothers and to foil the Zionist plans aimed at forcing them to give up their legitimate national rights."

Israel, the United States and the European Union have said they would withhold millions of dollars in payments to the PA. Hamas initially said it would make up the shortfall by appealing to the Arab and Muslim world. But Arab states have so far failed to back up their rhetorical solidarity with the Palestinians with money.

Al Jazeera: Hamas willing to recognize IsraelThe Al Jazeera Website on Thursday reported that the Hamas-led Palestinian government is willing to recognize Israel if it withdraws from territories it occupied in 1967.

The site quoted sources close to Palestinian PM Ismail Haniyeh saying that the Hamas decision was a "significant change in policy".

"What it means is that the Palestinian government is willing to recognize Israel if Israel met certain conditions, including a complete withdrawal from the territories Israel occupied in 1967," Al Jazeera.net quoted one of the sources as saying.

According to the source, Haniyeh was expected to official announce the decision in a few days.

The Hamas-led government is coming under intense international pressure to recognize Israel, abandon armed resistance and accept outstanding agreements between the PA and Israel.

If true, the new development will constitute a significant departure from Hamas' dogged refusal to accept Israel's right to exist.