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Israel freezes PA tax funds in response to ICC move

Jan. 3, 2015 6:09 P.M. (Updated: Jan. 8, 2015 10:09 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Israeli authorities on Saturday froze the transfer of tax funds collected by Israel for the Palestinian Authority in response to President Mahmoud Abbas' decision to sign the Rome Statute, an official told AFP.

The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, did not elaborate.

The Israeli news site Ynet said Israel froze 500 million shekels ($127 million) of tax funds typically distributed each month.

Citing "Israeli sources," Ynet said the decision was made Thursday during a discussion between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other officials.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said the freeze was a war crime.

"This decision is a new Israeli war crime, but we won't back off in the face of those pressures," he told AFP.

Abbas' request to join the Hague-based International Criminal Court angered Israel and earned sharp criticism from the US. Netanyahu has urged the ICC to reject the request based on the fact that the PA is not a state.

Under interim peace deals, Israel collects taxes on behalf of the PA, money it needs to pay public sector salaries.

Each month, PA salaries cost around $200 million, $120 million of which is covered from the taxes collected by Israel.

Israel has previously frozen payments to the PA during times of heightened security and diplomatic tensions, provoking strong international criticism, such as when the UN cultural body UNESCO granted the Palestinians full membership in 2011.

AFP contributed to this report.
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