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Thursday, March 22, 2007

US to reduce aid to Abbas security forces

US is reducing aid to Abbas's security forces, though we have seen elsewhere that US officials believe the forces loyal to Abbas are no match for Hamas forces.

Published: March 22, 2007
WASHINGTON, March 21 — The Bush administration will reduce by about 40 percent the aid it is seeking from Congress for the security forces of the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and set new conditions for monitoring the money because of concerns that some of it could end up with Hamas, the militant Islamist organization, administration officials said Wednesday.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is returning to the Middle East this weekend for another round of shuttle diplomacy, told a House panel on Wednesday that she would soon send Congress a revised package that would try to restrict the use of the money to security forces loyal to Mr. Abbas, whom the United States considers more moderate than Hamas.
Officials said the revised request would be for about $50 million, down from $86 million, for the 2008 fiscal year.
"I have reformulated the plan," Ms. Rice said. "It will request less money, precisely because some of the money I would have requested, I could not fully account for." She said the new plan would take pains to make certain the money did not go to Hamas, which has formed a national unity government with Mr. Abbas.
Congress has delayed Ms. Rice's original request, and it is unclear if even the reduced amount will get out of the House, where the pro-Israel lobby is particularly strong.
But Ms. Rice's decision to continue to seek aid — albeit less — underscores the more tempered approach the administration is taking to issues involved in peace efforts between Israel and the Palestinians after years of solid support of Israel.
Direct international aid to the Palestinian Authority was suspended more than a year ago when Hamas won control of the government in elections. The new unity government is still dominated by Hamas. But it includes figures from Mr. Abbas's Fatah faction and several independents.
Salam Fayyad, the new finance minister, is a former official with the International Monetary Fund, and has good relations with the West. He met Tuesday with the American consul in Jerusalem, Jacob Walles.
In another sign of a potential thaw in relations between the United States and the Palestinian Authority, major powers issued a statement on Wednesday saying that the new government would not be judged only on its "composition and platform, but also its actions."
The statement, released after two days of talks among the so-called quartet — the United States, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union — called on the new Palestinian government to demonstrate a "clear and credible" commitment to peace with Israel as a condition for receiving international aid.

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