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Joint Edict Will Require Muslim Donations to Palestinian Authority

By Hassan M. Fattah
THE NEW YORK TIMES


DOHA, QATAR

Religious leaders from a number of Muslim countries issued a joint edict from here on Thursday requiring Muslims to donate money to the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority, currently boycotted as a terrorist group by the United States and the European Union.

The high-profile entry of the religious leaders fuels rising popular pressure on Arab governments to break the boycott and seeks to turn a political issue into a pan-Islamic one.

By issuing a fatwa, or binding legal ruling, the scholars, who hold sway over a wide swath of the Muslim world, appear to have raised the stakes over the Palestinian Authority’s financial crisis.

“This meeting has reverted the Palestinian issue to its rightful depth as an Arab, and Islamic issue,” said Izat Reshq, a member of Hamas’ politburo. “We in Hamas always said this is not just an internal Palestinian issue, it is an Arab and Muslim one.”

Prominent clerics like the Egyptian Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Saudi cleric Salman al-Odeh and Sheik Harith al-Dhari, head of Iraq’s Sunni Islamic Scholars Association, met with leaders of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in closed-door sessions here over the past two days to discuss various steps of breaking the embargo on the Hamas-led government. The clerics drew up an action plan to support the Palestinians and wrote an edict calling on Muslims to donate money and allay the financial crisis in areas under Palestinian security or administrative control and, in effect, resist the United States and Europe.

There were no representatives from Fatah, the more secular Palestinian movement that led the Palestinian Authority until it was ousted in January’s elections.

“God instructed the men of religion to stand up for justice and keep the Muslim nation aware,” said Professor Ahmad Ali al-Iman, a Sudanese cleric who attended the sessions. “Palestine is a religious issue, not just a political one, and affects all Muslims. So we want the Muslim nation to stand as one with the Palestinians.”

The site of the meeting produced some odd juxtapositions. Doha is home to the U.S. army’s Central Command and served as the operations center for the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. It is also home to the satellite station Al-Jazeera.

Conservative and radical Muslim scholars debated ways out of the crisis, with Khaled Meshal, a Damascus-based leader of Hamas, at one point openly calling on Arab governments to supply Hamas with arms, even as American soldiers, some in uniform, held meetings in nearby rooms.

The meeting occurred as Islamist and social movements throughout the Arab world began collecting millions in support of the Palestinians in recent days.

Governments, too, have pledged support. Last month, Iran pledged $50 million to the Palestinian Authority, and Qatar and Saudi Arabia soon followed suit, pledging $50 million and $90 million respectively.

It was not immediately clear, however, how Muslim donations would actually get to Palestinians as American pressure continued on Arab banks not to transfer funds into Palestinian hands.