U.S. President George Bush has ordered the freezing of the assets of six Hamas leaders and five organizations accused of proffering financial aid to Hamas. The decision was taken following the Jerusalem bus massacre on Tuesday that claimed 21 lives.
"By taking responsibility for the abominable terror action [in Jerusalem]," Bush said on Friday, "Hamas has once again confirmed that it is a terror organization committed to violence against Israelis and striking out at the continuation of the peace process..." American Treasury officials assume that the assets are not in the U.S., and say that international cooperation is of the utmost importance. In response, Hamas spokesman Abdel Aziz Rantisi said that Bush is Islam's greatest enemy, and that the decision is a way for the Americans to rob Moslem money.
The New York Times reports that Europe has reacted tepidly to President Bush's call. Both French and European Union officials said that any decision on freezing assets would probably be made jointly by European foreign ministers "over the next few weeks," and would require a thorough review of the charities' activities. An Austrian spokesman said the country's counter-terrorism agency had already investigated one of the groups - the Palestinian Association in Austria - and had found no evidence of wrongdoing. The other groups are the Committee for Welfare and Relief for Palestine (based in France), the Palestinian Relief Association (Switzerland), the Palestinian Relief and Development Fund - Interpal (Britain), and the Sanabil Association for Relief and Development (Lebanon). The Times writes that Bush's anti-Hamas position sets the stage for another U.S.-European rift, as during the Iraq war.