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U.S. lawmakers lift hold on aid to Palestinians

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U.S. lawmakers have lifted a hold on nearly $200 million in aid to the Palestinians that had been suspended in response to their bid for full U.N. membership, officials said Monday.

The U.S. funds were held back in the Congress on August 18, the office of the House Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican, said.

The influential congresswoman lifted objections to the release of a first $50 million tranche in a September 2 letter to the U.S. Agency for International Development.

A second tranche of nearly $148 million that was supposed to fund the Palestinian police forces was recently unblocked after the committee received assurances about their use and importance to U.S. national security.

Even though they have unblocked the aid, Ros-Lehtinen and a number of other Republican and Democratic lawmakers remain vehemently opposed to U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asked Congress on October 27 to preserve the aid to the Palestinian Authority, warning that otherwise Hamas could try to fill the void.

The United States insists that U.N. recognition of Palestine would be meaningless unless it first negotiates a peace agreement with Israel. Meanwhile, the Mideast Quartet – the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations – have called for an agreement by the end of 2012.

Several U.S. lawmakers have raised the possibility of reviewing U.S. aid to the Palestinians and even Washington's financial contributions to the United Nations, after the Palestinians requested recognition of the United Nations in September.

Last week, the United States announced it was cutting off funding to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization after it voted to admit the Palestinians as a full member.

Meanwhile the Russell Tribunal rights group said the international community should display the same solidarity with the Palestinians as it did in the fight to end apartheid in South Africa.

The Tribunal urged “that the Global Civil Society replicate the spirit of solidarity that contributed to the end of apartheid in South Africa”.

Earlier, at the opening of its annual session in Cape Town on Saturday, South African peace icon Archbishop Desmond Tutu accused Israel of collective amnesia.

“They have forgotten their own history. They have forgotten what their own prophets have said about our God,” the Nobel Peace Prize winner said in his opening address to the International Russell Tribunal on Palestine.

The group was created in 2009 along the model of its mother organization, co-founded by the late philosopher Bertrand Russell, which shed light on US war crimes in Vietnam in the 1960s.

The group's eight-person “jury” includes Irish Nobel laureate Mairead Corrigan and French feminist Gisele Halimi.

It announced its next meeting would be held next year in New York, to question why the United Nations has failed to act on its resolutions on Israel.

In all, the Russell Tribunal has some 30 committees focusing on various conflicts.

The Federation of South African Zionists denounced the group’s Palestine wing as a “political smear campaign”.