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Money transfer stoppage 'tightening Gaza siege'

Jan. 14, 2012 3:24 P.M. (Updated: Jan. 19, 2012 9:29 A.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have told Ma'an that the recent restrictions on Western Union money transfer services are tightening the siege on the coastal strip.

The currency wire service enabled residents to avoid lengthy bank transfer procedures, and the monitoring of transactions by Israel and the US, experts said on Saturday.

Western Union has stopped its services to many currency exchange stores in the coastal enclave over concerns about money laundering, Palestinian Monetary Authority Governor Jihad al-Wazir said last week.

The Ramallah-based official denied on Saturday that the PA government played a role in the service cancellations. The Authority is considering handing out more currency exchange licenses to ease the problem, he said.

His department contacted the Western Union over the stoppage, and the company said money transfers would continue to all the authorized entities both in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip.

Professor of economy at Gaza City's Al-Azhar University Samir Abu Mudallala said the Western Union was vital for Palestinians to transfer money in and out of the Gaza Strip safely.

Banks in the Gaza Strip are monitored by Israel and the US, and every single money transfer sent to Gaza -- whether for individuals or organizations -- is monitored by Israel, he said. The service outage would thus tighten the blockade on the coastal enclave, he said.

Currency exchange offices will also be hit, as they have already paid considerable sums to the money transfer company for the service, he added.

Money changer employee Nasser Turk told Ma'an that ordinary people will suffer the biggest losses from the lack of Western Union services.

Complicated bank transfer procedures take hours to complete and impose charges for currency conversion, he said, adding "it is much easier for the average citizen to deal with Western Union services."

Israel tightened a land and sea blockade on Gaza after Hamas seized power in 2007.

Transferring currency to the coastal strip requires coordination with the Israeli military authorities and a shortage of bills has held up public sector employees' wages in recent months.
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