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Resumption Of U.S. Aid To Palestinians Leaves Some Lawmakers Uneasy

Updated:
WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Bush's decision to resume U.S. aid to the Palestinian government has left some lawmakers uneasy, including at least one Republican who wants to pass a law that would reverse it.

``I have grave concerns that we would set aside our current preconditions for support in the wake of this emergency,'' said Rep. Mike Pence, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Middle East and South Asia subcommittee. ``What we ought to be doing is reconsidering our policy.''

Last week, Hamas seized control of the tiny coastal territory of the Gaza Strip from Fatah security forces. The rout prompted President Mahmoud Abbas to evict Hamas from the Hamas-Fatah coalition government, a move Hamas decries as illegal.

The almost 3 million Palestinians now essentially have two governments. Nearly half are under Hamas' control in the Gaza Strip, with the rest under Abbas' authority in the West Bank. Hamas is sworn to Israel's destruction and is regarded a terrorist organization by the United States and Israel, while Abbas' more moderate Fatah movement seeks peace with the Jewish state.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced Monday that the administration would contribute $40 million to the United Nations to help the Palestinians, particularly in the Gaza Strip, and ask Congress to approve another $86 million in U.S. aid.

Congress has been mostly quiet on the issue, although some Republicans say they have grave concerns the money will end up in the hands of Hamas.

``I think that's a noble intention but in a practical sense it will end up giving U.S. taxpayer dollars to a terrorist organization, which is Hamas,'' said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Pence, R-Ind., said he is drafting legislation that would restrict money from being given to the Palestinians so long as Hamas has control of Gaza. Pence wants to offer the measure as an amendment to a $34.2 billion bill that funds the State Department and foreign assistance programs.

Pence said his concern is that Bush's decision to resume aid will ``open the flood gates of support for authorities within the Fatah government that could ultimately be used against Israel,'' he said in an interview Wednesday.

``Right now we're at a time when Hamas is sitting behind the desk of government buildings in Gaza City wearing ski masks and holding AK-47s,'' he added. ``It's hard for me to see where we can provide any funds directly or indirectly to supplement or support what is an emerging terrorist Palestinian state.''

Other members, including several key Democrats, disagree. Rep. Gary Ackerman, the New York lawmaker who chairs the House appropriations subcommittee focused on the Middle East, said the U.S. should have stepped in years ago to help the Fatah party but didn't because of concerns about corruption.

``We had the opportunities to be with the crooks or be with the terrorists and we opted to sit it out,'' said Ackerman. ``Not a good thing if one of them is going to win and be the terrorist.''

Pence said he and other lawmakers planned to be briefed Thursday at the State Department.

Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said this week they hope bolstering support for the moderate Fatah government will help weaken Hamas.

``He has spoken out for moderation,'' Bush said, speaking of Abbas in the Oval Office with Olmert at his side. ``He is a voice that is a reasonable voice amongst the extremists in your neighborhood.''

``Like you, I want to strengthen the moderates,'' echoed Olmert.
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