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Berman, Lowey block military funding to Lebanon

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WASHINGTON (JTA) — Two members of the U.S. Congress independently placed holds on military aid to Lebanon.

Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee, separately blocked a $100 million security assistance package to the Lebanese military. Berman placed the hold Aug. 2, one day before the Lebanese military fired at Israeli soldiers working on the border, while Lowey’s hold came after the incident.

Berman’s office said he had been concerned for some time about the terrorist group Hezbollah’s increasing influence on the Lebanese armed forces. He said he would not allow military funding to go to Lebanon until he is assured the Lebanese army  is not a tool of Hezbollah.

“The incident on the Israel-Lebanon border only one day after my hold was placed simply reinforces the critical need for the United States to conduct an in-depth policy  
review of its relationship with the Lebanese military,” Berman said in a statement.

Lowey reportedly said she blocked the aid package in response to the unprovoked attack on Israeli troops pruning trees on its side of the U.N.’ recognized border, and will continue to do so until she has seen how Lebanon will react to the incident.

“This incident was tragic and entirely avoidable,” Lowey told the Jerusalem Post. “U.S. assistance is intended to enhance our safety and that of our allies.”

Lebanese officials reportedly said the hold will weaken the country’s efforts to build its army. Mohamad Chatah, an adviser to the Lebanse prime minister, who is backed by the United States, said the army is reliable and any "friend of Lebanon" should not try to block efforts to improve it.

According to the Jerusalem Post, funding for the Lebanese armed forces approved in 2009 will still be distributed. The Obama administration had requested an additional $100 million for 2011 before the border attack.

Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the House minority whip, called for the funding to be blocked until the clash was investigated further.
 

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