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Doubts prompt U.S. to trim Palestinian funding request

March 22, 2007|From Reuters

WASHINGTON — An $86-million budget request to bolster Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' security forces will be slashed by more than a third because of concerns about how the money would be spent, officials said Wednesday.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told a congressional subcommittee that she would submit a new plan soon, cutting out funds that she feared would have reached the "wrong hands."

A State Department official said later that Rice would request about $50 million, trimming about $36 million. Most of the cuts would affect the training and equipping of Abbas' security forces, he said.

"Some of the money that I would have requested I did not think I could fully account for," Rice told a House appropriations subcommittee.

Congress has held up the $86-million request, which followed agreement on a new Palestinian government that includes the militant group Hamas and Abbas' more moderate Fatah faction.

Several congressional members feared some of the money would reach Hamas, which the United States has declared a terrorist group. Under U.S. law, taxpayer funds cannot go to such a group.

Rice is set to leave for the Middle East on Friday and will see both Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Abbas to try to get both sides closer to reviving moribund peace initiatives.

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