Wed, May 10, 2006 - Page 6 News List

US to reroute Palestinian aid into health program

AP , NEW YORK

The US plans to spend some of the money it took back from the Palestinians on a new medical program rather than let it get into the hands of militant group Hamas, US officials said.

The program to provide medical supplies and money for health-care to the impoverished Palestinians comes as the US is trying to maintain a hard line among allies against any direct funding for the new Hamas-led Palestinian government.

Details of the approximately US$10 million program were to be released yesterday, but US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice previewed it in an interview on Monday with the Associated Press.

Rice said she and other leaders are following reports that medicine and healthcare equipment are in short supply in the Palestinian areas and that a plan will be presented at a meeting yesterday of the Quartet group of Middle East peacemakers, composed of the US, the EU, Russia and the UN.

"We're going to respond to that and I think tomorrow we'll be talking about a plan to provide substantial, new in-kind, rapid intervention into the healthcare situation so that Palestinians can have health care," Rice said.

US officials said the modest program would see quick, direct distribution of supplies and would remain under close US control. The idea is to fund the program with some of the approximately US$30 million that the Palestinian Authority returned earlier this year at US request.

That returned money was part of a relatively small pot meant to go directly to the government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose moderate Fatah Party was trounced by Hamas in the January election.

Most US aid to the Palestinians has been routed through charities or other filters out of concern over corruption under the late leader Yasser Arafat, whom Abbas replaced.

Much of the money set aside in recent years had not yet been spent, and the Hamas victory led to a line-by-line review of about US$600 million that was outstanding.

Last month, the Bush administration said it would cut, suspend or shift up to US$411 million in Palestinian aid over the next few years as part of an international effort to deny funds to Hamas.

The EU announced that it, too, was cutting off funds, denying the Hamas-led government in the impoverished Palestinian territories the bulk of the foreign underwriting that keeps services running.

Both the US and the EU regard Hamas, which has pledged violence against Israel, as a terrorist organization.

The result was the decision to end, at least for now, projects that could even indirectly benefit Hamas, such as road and waterworks construction, while increasing funding for humanitarian projects.

Last year the Palestinians received US$1.3 billion in overseas aid, out of a budget of US$1.9 billion.

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