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State: Abbas will be funded

The U.S. State Department reassured a top Jewish congressman that it is committed to funding Palestinian moderates.

U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the Middle East subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives, led a roster of Congress members last year who signed a letter asking the United States to increase assistance to the government of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in order to help him face down challenges from extremists.

The letter was supported by a broad array of pro-Israel groups, notably including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, because Ackerman made it clear the moneys should be project-based. That qualification arose out of a concern that direct funding of the P.A. might not include controls that would keep the money from corrupt officials or terrorists.

The response from the State Department, sent Jan. 10 and obtained Wednesday by JTA, agreed that the P.A. “needs considerable help if it is to reestablish its authority throughout the Palestinian territories while working with Israel to negotiate a peaceful resolution to the conflict.”

The letter, signed by Jeffrey Bergner, the assistant secretary for legislative affairs, noted the Bush administration’s recent request to Congress to approve $410 million in assistance.

It also noted that $150 million in direct aid has been allocated from money already appropriated late last year in an emergency appropriations bill.

“The extraordinary fiscal circumstances the P.A. is currently facing warrant direct support,” Bergner said.

It is not clear whether State considers that $150 million as part of the overall $410 million request from Congress.

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