WASHINGTON – President Bush is asking Congress to provide $83 million for security forces loyal to Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, as the U.S. tries bolstering him for prospective peacemaking with Israel.
Bush has told Congress he would like Abbas' forces to receive the aid, which would be for training, uniforms, vehicles and other support, a senior U.S. official said Friday. The amount could be increased a few million, said the official, who spoke anonymously because he was not authorized to make announcements.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is expected to try prodding the peace process in a trip to the area later in the month.
The administration wants to make sure the U.S. assistance does not fall into the hands of Hamas, the radical group that now runs most of the Palestinian government and is vying with Abbas for overall control. The United States is boycotting Hamas, which it considers a sponsor of terror against Israel.
Hamas reacted angrily. Spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said, "The American funding is not based on supporting populations or governments but on supporting an American project to divide populations. ... This is an American policy based on terrorism and dividing and ruling."
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters that "non-lethal military assistance" was designed to "build up those responsible security forces to help provide security in Gaza, in the West Bank, help stop terror attacks," and help regulate checkpoints to open more passages for Palestinians to travel.
Some questions from Congress remain to be answered, McCormack said.
"We are being very careful and scrupulous in building in safeguards" to make sure the equipment does not get to Hamas, he said.
Under U.S. law and Bush administration policy, any form of assistance to the Palestinians must bypass Hamas. The Bush administration is demanding that Hamas pledge to stop violence against Israel and recognize its right to exist.