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Washington Times front page story: US aid goes to terrorism backers
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THE WASHINGTON TIMES
(Front Page Story)
U.S. Aid goes to Terrorism Backers


by David R. Sands

U.S. lawmakers want to tighten foreign aid laws to close loopholes that they say have allowed American aid dollars to go to Palestinian groups working with or fostering terrorist-supporting organizations.

In one instance, about $410,000 in American aid helped finance the new Salah Khalaf Recreation and Sports Center in the West Bank city of Nablus.

The center, officially opened May 29, is named for the man considered the spiritual godfather of the Palestinian Black September faction responsible for the 1972 massacre at the Munich Summer Olympics.

The effort by U.S. lawmakers was triggered by a report in Palestinian Media Watch that U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) money was being funneled to Palestinian organizations even though they have refused to sign a pledge saying they would not work with officially designated terrorist groups such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade.

In addition, Palestinian municipalities and universities have accepted substantial U.S. aid, freeing up other funds for anti-Israel and anti-U.S. protests or to honor terrorist “martyrs.”

Khalaf, the Black September leader, was a close associate of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat until he was assassinated in an intra-Palestinian feud in 1991.

Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, sits on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee overseeing USAID funding.

“In light of the new disclosures, we’re going to have to amend the statute to prohibit U.S. funds from going to any entity, even municipalities, from engaging in activities honoring terrorists or doing anything to condone terrorist activities,” Mr. Specter said.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican and chairman of the House International Relations subcommittee overseeing Middle East issues, called the diversion of U.S. tax dollars to such efforts “unconscionable.”

Recipients of U.S. aid “must reject terrorism as a condition of receiving that aid,” she said. “The Palestinian Authority apparently does not believe this is important to do.”

Palestinian civic and aid groups received $174 million last year from the U.S. government.
In the wake of the September 11 attacks, USAID has required aid recipients to submit a “Certification Regarding Terrorist Financing” to ensure that no U.S. government money is being funneled to terrorist groups.

But the Palestinian Legislative Council, dominated by Mr. Arafat’s Fatah organization, rejected the demand earlier this month, as did at least 30 Palestinian nongovernmental groups.
Azmi Shuaibi, chairman of the legislative council’s economic committee, called the USAID demand a violation of Palestinian Authority law forbidding charities and nongovernmental organizations from accepting conditional aid.

Mr. Shuaibi also accused Israel of exploiting the issue to “distort the Palestinian national struggle” by defining legitimate resistance groups as terrorist organizations.

Hamas and other militant Palestinian groups have extensive social and health networks that operate throughout Palestinian territories. The head of one Palestinian civil rights group called the USAID demand “cheap blackmail.”

USAID West Bank and Gaza Strip spokeswoman Monica Pataki said the agency had consulted extensively earlier this year with Palestinian groups, seeking a compromise on the counterterrorism pledge. She said the agency was acting in line with all U.S. regulations in its programs in Palestinian territories.

Congressional alarm was triggered by an unpublished report by Israel-based Palestinian Media Watch, which maintained that USAID funds were going to Palestinian universities and municipalities that had allowed anti-U.S. and anti-Israel protests.

USAID said it carefully monitors grants made to individual Palestinian students, but many Palestinian campuses receiving U.S. aid dollars also support official branches of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. These two groups jointly control a number of college student unions.

One Palestinian university even staged a re-enactment celebrating the deadly August 2001 suicide bombing of a Sbarro's restaurant in Jerusalem.

“We are in favor of money going to support genuine projects helping Palestinians,” said Itamar Marcus, head of Palestinian Media Watch, which monitors the Palestinian press to expose what it calls the “contradictions” between Palestinian rhetoric and reality.

“But it is scandalous that U.S. money is helping to promote terrorism and to send a strong message to young people that these so-called martyrs, whether Hamas killers or terrorists who killed American or Israeli athletes, are heroes,” Mr. Marcus said.