The residents of 20 Palestinian villages are preparing to file suit over Israel's construction of the 450-mile security barrier along the edge of the West Bank. But their target is not Israel. The suit charges that officials in Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority (P.A.) have profited by importing cement and selling it to Israeli contractors building the wall. Hassan Khreisheh, deputy speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, tells TIME he handed a report on the cement deals to Arafat's attorney general and has recommended prosecutions.
According to a copy of the report obtained by TIME, well-connected companies won import licenses for 420,000 tons of Egyptian cement from last September to February, but only 33,000 tons reached the Palestinian market. The rest, the report charges, went to an Israeli company in Haifa. The report doesn't say how much of about $6 million in profits went to P.A. officials and their connections, but it does accuse several companies, including some owned by the family of Civil Affairs Minister Jamil Tarifi, of profiting from the deal. Tarifi did not return calls requesting comment. Arafat has denounced the barrier, but Abdel Sattar Qassem, a Nablus academic who says he plans to file suit against politicians involved in the deal, says, "The scandal shows that all the Palestinian official statements against the wall are lies." --By Matt Rees and Jamil Hamad