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Congress and President Bush kept their pledge to boost defense assistance for Israel despite deadlock on budget issues. The final version of the supplemental appropriations bill passed last week in Congress includes an additional $170 million in defense assistance for Israel. Bush signed the bill Monday. The sum will be added to $2.38 billion for Israel in a “continuing resolution” likely to be passed later this year, bringing defense assistance up to the $2.55 billion that President Bush promised last year. “Continuing resolutions” are passed when Congress and the White House are deadlocked over budget matters, as they are this year. The resolutions maintain funding for domestic and foreign programs at existing levels. Adding the $170 million means Congress and the White House are making an exception to the deadlock tradition of maintaining funding at existing levels. They are doing so to make good on their pledge to increase Israel’s defense assistance from an average of $2.4 billion annually over the last decade to an average of $3 billion over the next. “The U.S. commitment to maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge is the cornerstone of American policy in the region,” the American Israel Public Affairs Committee said in a statement. “The effort to secure this vital increase in American aid to our ally Israel could not have happened without the active support of the bipartisan leadership of the House and Senate, and AIPAC applauds their effort.” The supplemental package also includes nearly $200 million in assistance to the Palestinian Authority, a boost aimed at helping its moderate leadership confront extremists at a time of peace talks with Israel.

An Australian charity has been funneling funds to the Gaza Strip. Muslim Aid Australia has ben sending the funds via Interpal, a British-based organization accused by the United States government of being the “fundraising co-ordinator of Hamas” and which has been banned by Australia and the U.S. for its alleged links to terrorism, according to a report in The Australian newspaper. The organization recently sent almost $1 million for medical aid in Gaza, the paper reported. Interpal, also known as the Palestinian Relief and Development Fund, is based in Britain and, despite investigations in 1996 and 2003, is not proscribed there. But the U.S. Treasury accused it in 2003 of being “part of a web of charities” raising funds for Hamas. Months later the Australian Government also proscribed it. The penalty for breaching the Australian law is a maximum prison sentence of 10 years and fines of up to $1 million. Muslim Aid Australia is headquartered in Lakemba, a Sydney suburb home to the controversial Sheikh Tajeddin al-Hilaly, who in 2004 lauded suicide bombers while visiting Lebanon and in 2007 was cleared by police of channeling funds to Hezbollah. Iman Partoredjo, the executive director of Muslim Aid Australia, this week issued a statement confirming it used Interpal to channel aid to Palestinians. Muslim Aid Australia was established in 1989 to “alleviate the pain of those suffering and in need of relief in the accordance to the obligations imposed by the Qur’an,” according to its Web site.

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