Israel freezes funds it says aid attackers’ families

JERUSALEM — Israel’s Security Cabinet on Sunday froze nearly $200 million in tax transfers to the Palestinians that it said represented the amount of money the Palestinians transferred to the families of alleged attackers last year.

Under interim peace agreements, Israel collects hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes for the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority. The tax transfers are a key source of funding for the cash-strapped Palestinians.

Israel has long objected to the Palestinian “martyrs fund,” which provides stipends to thousands of families that have had relatives killed, wounded or imprisoned in the conflict with Israel.

The Palestinians say the payments are a type of welfare system meant to assist families affected by the conflict. But Israel says such payments serve as rewards and incentives for violence.

In its decision, the Security Cabinet approved a recommendation by Defense Minister Benny Gantz to freeze some 597 million shekels — or roughly $180 million — for what it called “indirect support of terrorism” in 2020. It said the funds will be frozen on a monthly basis out of payments that Israel transfers to the Palestinians.

For the Palestinians, the families of attackers are widely seen as victims of a half century of Israeli occupation. The Palestinians say that many Palestinians are unfairly held by Israel and that the number of prisoners involved in deadly attacks is a small percentage of those aided by the fund.

Qadri Abu Bakr, head of the Palestinian commission for detainees’ affairs, accused Israel of stealing Palestinians funds, calling the decision a “crime and piracy.”

The official Palestinian news agency Wafa said that President Mahmoud Abbas spoke by telephone Sunday with Israel’s new president, Isaac Herzog.

It said Abbas called for a “comprehensive calm” in Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem, and called for steps that would create conditions for a “achieving a just and comprehensive peace.”

The statement made no mention of the frozen tax transfers.