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House OKs $200 million for Israel

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WASHINGTON, May 27 (JTA) — Continuing its strong support of Israel, the U.S. House of Representatives has approved $200 million for Israel’s counterterrorism effort as part of its emergency spending bill. The $28.8 billion spending bill passed last Friday after a rancorous debate that lasted all day May 23. The bill also includes $50 million in humanitarian aid for the Palestinians. The main part of the bill includes funding for defense, homeland security and aid for New York City. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle were angry over the addition of other amendments, and Democrats mainly objected to raising the debt ceiling. Rep. Sonny Callahan (R-Ala.), a former chairman of the foreign operations subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, did not want aid to Israel included in the bill. Callahan has tried to block foreign aid to Israel on a number of occasions, calling for American money to be spread more evenly in the Middle East. On May 22, Callahan had pledged to lead an effort to strip the Israel aid out of the bill because it had not been requested by the Bush administration or Israel. Someone decided to “get some pork in it for Israel,” he said of the bill. The National Jewish Democratic Council denounced Callahan’s comment, saying all legislators should “come together and stand in solidarity with Israel at this difficult time.” Debate was cut off shortly before midnight May 23 and no further amendments were allowed, stopping Callahan’s efforts. Many lawmakers objected to amendments that did not deal directly with the U.S. war on terrorism. But Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), who said she supports the war on terrorism, said “providing assistance for Israel, our ally in that part of the world, is just one part of the campaign.” The money for the Palestinians will go into an international disaster assistance account to be used for humanitarian and refugee programs in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. USAID, the American foreign aid agency, will distribute the money to groups operating on the ground. In keeping with U.S. policy, the funds will not go through the Palestinian Authority. Dozens of Palestinian groups and leaders have called to reject aid from the U.S. government because of its support for Israel. The groups include Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat’s Fatah Party, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, two universities and several members of the Palestinian Parliament. Palestinian human rights activist Khader Shkirat said the United States “supports Israeli crimes, and with the other hand gives humanitarian aid to the Palestinians, and that is not acceptable.” The Senate is expected to take up its $31 billion version of the aid legislation in June.

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