House Panel Approves Emergency Aid to Israel

Looking for a silver lining in a cloud of defeat, Secretary of State Colin Powell succeeded in getting a House committee to include $50 million in humanitarian aid for Palestinians in a House bill that provides $200 million in aid for Israel.

"The secretary expressed that it would be a more balanced approach," to include the amendment in a bill that ended up passing the House Appropriations Committee Thursday, said Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., chairman of the Appropriations panel's foreign operations subcommittee, who spoke to Powell.

The Bush administration last week asked the House to avoid provoking Arab nations by removing a provision for the cash in a House-passed resolution demonstrating support for Israel. The Senate also passed a resolution expressing support for Israel that did not include the call for cash assistance.

The Thursday panel meeting coincides with Israeli troop movements toward the Gaza Strip, where the terrorist organization Hamas is headquartered. Hamas claimed responsibility for a Tuesday suicide bombing in the Israeli town of Rishon Letzion that left 15 Israelis dead and more than 50 injured.

The money for military assistance was added to a $29.1 billion package of homeland security and defense spending for the remaining five months of the federal fiscal year.

President Bush had urged Congress not to spend more than his $27.1 billion request. The House agreed to chop about $700 million from its initial bill of $29.8 billion to gain conservative support for the measure.

The Senate is likely to include the funds for Israel in its emergency-spending bill that may come under consideration next week.

Asked about the extra aid for Israel, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said, "We're taking a look at that now. Clearly, the president has supported and does support aid for Israel."

The House Appropriations chairman, Rep. Bill Young, R-Fla., said Powell did not object when Kolbe told him Thursday morning of the effort to provide extra aid to Israel, but simply asked that the assistance for Palestinians be included.

Israel already receives $2.8 billion in U.S. foreign aid, and Rep. Jack Kingston, R-N.Y., said the additional $200 million will go to anti-terror measures.

Money for the Palestinians would be funneled through the U.S. Agency for International Development, a federal agency, not through the Palestinian Authority headed by Yasser Arafat. No U.S. funding is given directly to the PA, but is distributed primarily through non-governmental organizations. The additional $50 million will go to humanitarian purposes such as providing food, health care and housing in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The overall bill contained $15.8 billion for the Reserves, National Guard and other defense programs; $5.8 billion to bolster safety at airports, dams, nuclear weapons plants and other domestic security initiatives; and $5.5 billion to help New York rebuild from the Sept. 11 attacks.

It also contains $200 million to help the global fight against AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, and a doubling of the $2.50 per flight segment tax paid by airline passengers to help foot federal security costs. Lawmakers are expected to eventually reject that fee increase though supporters say it will help pay for salaries and related expenses at the newly formed Transportation Security Administration, which is hiring federal baggage screeners and sky marshals.

The Appropriations panel took a three-hour afternoon break in its proceedings, in part to let members attend a subcommittee hearing at which actress Julia Roberts testified.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.