US lawmaker blocks PA aid request

$86 million transfer held until questions on unity gov't policy are 'answered.'

Abbas Haniyeh deal 298.8 (photo credit: AP [file])
Abbas Haniyeh deal 298.8
(photo credit: AP [file])
A leading lawmaker said Friday she is blocking $86 million (€65.6 million) in US aid for Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas at a time when the Bush administration wants to strengthen him in hopes of enhancing his ability to negotiate for peace. Democrat Rep. Nita Lowey, chairwoman of the House of Representatives panel that oversees foreign aid spending, said she wants a better understanding of the new political landscape in the Middle East and details on how the money would be used. The Bush administration had requested the money to help security forces loyal to Abbas, who leads the secular Fatah party. For more than a year, he has been locked in conflict with terrorists from Hamas, elected last January to form a Palestinian government. Hamas is listed by the United States as a foreign terror organization. Bush's request was complicated after Abbas brokered a deal with Hamas this month to form a unified government. Hamas has said it will "respect" previous Palestinian peace deals with Israel, but has yet to say it will renounce violence or recognize the Jewish state. Hamas' acceptance of all three is the condition set by the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia - collaborating to find a way to Middle East peace - before Hamas can be brought into the process. "I've had some really serious questions that have yet to be answered" about the aid, Lowey said Friday at a hearing of her House Appropriations subcommittee. She said she has been worried about the aid request since December. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who testified at the hearing, has said she will reserve judgment until the coalition government is formed and its policies clear. She left Friday for the Middle East on a trip that includes a joint meeting with Abbas and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. The planned coalition government is Abbas' attempt to end a political standoff with Hamas that has lasted more than a year, and stop street fighting between the two factions that has killed more than 130 Palestinians since May.