Mar 1, 9:15 AM EST

Palestinian activist: boycott of Israeli products begins


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RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) -- Most West Bank shops no longer carry the products of six major Israeli food companies, as a boycott triggered by rising Israeli-Palestinian tensions is taking hold, a boycott leader said Sunday.

Activists in the Fatah movement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced the boycott plans last month, after Israel halted transfer of vital tax revenues to Abbas' cash-strapped Palestinian Authority. Israel took that step after the Palestinians joined the International Criminal Court to seek war crimes charges against Israel.

Fatah activists had given shopkeepers until this weekend to remove the products, warning they would destroy what hadn't been sold by then.

Campaign leader Abdullah Kmail said Sunday that 80 percent of shops no longer carry the products. He said shopkeepers were given extra time to sell the remaining goods and that no products were seized.

Palestinian activists tried before to get consumers to shun Israeli products, with little success. The current campaign appears more effective, in part because of changing public mood.

West Bank shopkeepers said sales of Israeli products declined even before the boycott appeal. They said the main trigger was last year's war between Israel and the Islamic militant Hamas in Gaza, in which some 2,200 Palestinians were killed, according to U.N. figures, along with 72 people on the Israeli side.

The West Bank is an important market for Israeli exports, including an estimated $700 million a year in food exports. The current campaign targets the companies Tnuva, Strauss, Elite, Osem, Prigat and Jafora.

Visits to a small grocery and a large supermarket Sunday indicated that owners are trying to comply with the campaign. Both said they are trying to sell what remains of the targeted products, and would not restock.

Kmail said the boycott in its current form would end if Israel resumes transfers of the funds it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. Since the freeze of the monthly transfers in January, the Abbas government has only been able to pay partial salaries to some 150,000 civil servants and members of the security forces.

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