Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Congresswoman: Safeguard US aid to Abbas

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., chairwoman of the House International Relations Subcommittee on the Middle East, says America must make sure weapons, financial aid reportedly being given to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' Force 17 personal security detail do not wind up in possession of Palestinian terror groups

""We cannot be blinded to the fact that in this case, there is a propensity that US assistance could, whether deliberately or inadvertently, find its way to extremist groups," said Ros-Lehtinen. "With the representation within the ranks of Abbas' Fatah party of militants with ties to the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, there is a potential that our own weapons could later be used against our ally, Israel and potentially against US priorities in the region. "As such, I am committed to working with my colleagues to ensure that, if such assistance is provided, proper safeguards and monitoring are in place to avoid diversion of weapons and resources into the hands of Islamist jihadists operating in the Palestinian territories or working with Hamas and other entities classified by the US as foreign terrorist organizations," Ros-Lehtinen said.

The congresswoman previously sponsored legislation along with Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., calling for a halt to US assistance to the PA following Hamas' victory in last January's Palestinian elections.

According to multiple reports, the US is leading a campaign to bolster Abbas' Force 17 against Hamas, which won a majority of parliamentary seats in Palestinian elections earlier this year. Force 17 protects the Abbas and also serves as a special security force on behalf of the Fatah party.

The Washington Times reported this week the US is working on a plan to build up Force 17. Last week, the New York Times reported the US proposed expanding Abbas' Force 17 from 3,500 men to 6,000 as part of a USD 26 million plan to strengthen the Palestinian leader. The Associated Press and Israel's leading Yedioth Ahronoth daily reported Friday new training facilities for Force 17 are slated to be set up in the West Bank town of Jericho and in Gaza, at a cost of USD 2 million each, according to the US proposal.

Sources in the US consulate in Jerusalem confirmed to WND the US is slated to transfer weapons to Force 17. "

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