Palestine agrees to halt payments to families of slain 'martyrs', says Tillerson

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson testifies during a State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Subcommittee hearing on the State Department's FY2018 Budget on Capitol Hill in Washington, on June 13, 2017.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson testifies during a State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Subcommittee hearing on the State Department's FY2018 Budget on Capitol Hill in Washington, on June 13, 2017. PHOTO: AFP/GETTY IMAGES

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The leadership of the Palestinian Authority has agreed to halt payments to the families of slain attackers, including suicide bombers, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Tuesday (June 13).

Compensation payments to the families of "martyrs" who die carrying out attacks on Israelis are one of the sticking points in the moribund Middle East peace process.

"They have changed their policy, at least I have been informed they've changed that policy," Tillerson told US lawmakers.

Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman expressed scepticism on Wednesday (June 14).

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"I did not see any evidence the Palestinian Authority has stopped payments for jailed terrorists and their families," Lieberman told Israeli public radio.

US President Donald Trump has vowed to seek to revive peace talks, and has urged Israel to limit settlement building on Palestinian land, but many differences remain.

Under questioning at a Senate hearing, Tillerson said Washington had pressed Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas on the issue of payments to the families of suicide bombers and attackers killed.

"It was discussed directly when president Abbas made his visit with his delegation to Washington," Tillerson said, adding that Trump had raised the issue at the White House.

Just after that May 3 meeting, Tillerson had a "more detailed" meeting with Abbas.

"And I told him you absolutely must stop making payments to family members of quote, 'martyrs'," he said.

"I said it's one thing to help orphans and children, but when you designate the payment for that act, that has to stop. Their intent is to cease the payments to the family members of those who have committed murder or violence against others," he said. "So, we've been very clear with them that this is simply not acceptable to us. It is certainly not acceptable to the American people."

If the change in policy is confirmed, it could be politically awkward for Abbas, who has committed himself publicly to the peace process but is wary of being seen to make concessions.