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US unblocks aid to Palestinian Authority

Nov. 8, 2011 9:22 A.M. (Updated: Nov. 10, 2011 9:55 A.M.)
WASHINGTON (AFP) -- US lawmakers have lifted a hold on nearly $200 million in aid to the Palestinians that had been suspended in response to the Palestinian bid for full UN membership, officials said Monday.

The US funds had been held back by Congress since Aug. 18, according to the office of the Republican chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

The influential congresswoman lifted objections to the release of a first $50 million tranche in a Sept. 2 letter to the US Agency for International Development -- ahead of the UN General Assembly at which President Mahmoud Abbas officially requested full state membership for his people.

A second tranche of nearly $148 million that was supposed to fund the Palestinian Authority police forces was recently unblocked after the committee received assurances about the use of the funds and their importance to US national security.

However a spokesman for Ros-Lehtinen said late Monday that the committee was maintaining a block on some $192 million in aid for infrastructure projects in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, but added no details.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asked Congress on Oct. 27 to preserve the aid to the Palestinian Authority, warning that otherwise Hamas militants, who run the Gaza Strip, could try to fill the void.

Some lawmakers have also argued that cutting off security and development aid credited here with tamping down extremist violence against Israel would be counterproductive.

A senior Israeli official told AFP on condition of anonymity that the block on aid had been a "signal" sent by Congress to the Palestinians over their UN statehood bid.

They should "reconsider their policy, and focus on negotiation rather than confrontation," added the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Even though they have unblocked the funds, Ros-Lehtinen and a number of other Republican and Democratic lawmakers remain vehemently opposed to UN recognition of a Palestinian state.

The United States insists that UN recognition of Palestine would be meaningless unless it first negotiates a peace agreement with Israel.

Meanwhile, the Mideast quartet -- the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations -- have called for a full peace accord by the end of 2012.

Several US lawmakers have raised the possibility of reviewing US aid to the Palestinian Authority and even Washington's financial contributions to the UN, after the PLO requested recognition of the United Nations in September.

Last week, the United States announced it was cutting off funding to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization after it voted to admit Palestine as a full member.

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