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US to boost Palestinian humanitarian aid - sources

Written by: Staff

JERUSALEM, Apr 6 (Reuters) The Bush administration plans to boost humanitarian aid to the Palestinians to nearly 300 million dollars this year while cutting other programmes in the West Bank and Gaza, Western diplomatic sources said today.

Under the US plan, expected to be announced by early next week, the Bush administration would sidestep the new Hamas-led government by delivering aid through UN agencies and non-governmental organisations, the sources said.

Despite the rise in humanitarian aid, estimated at 60 per cent, overall US assistance to the Palestinians was expected to fall, the sources said. Those figures were not disclosed.

The United States has not provided a definition of what it considers humanitarian assistance, but sources said much of the new money would be for food and other supplies.

The decision follows a review of all aid programmes after Hamas's election victory in January.

The Hamas-led government is already running into serious problems obtaining promised aid from some donors, forcing it to delay salary payments to an estimated 140,000 workers.

As many as one in four Palestinians is dependent on wages from the Palestinian Authority, prompting warnings from international West Asia envoy James Wolfensohn that violence could break out if salaries are not paid soon.

Israel has frozen tax revenue transfers in a bid to isolate Hamas, whose charter calls for destruction of the Jewish state.

The Bush administration has already ordered its diplomats and contractors to cut off contacts with Palestinian ministries after a Hamas-led government was sworn in.

But the administration said it would maintain contacts with President Mahmoud Abbas, his office and non-Hamas members of the Palestinian parliament.

''We support the election process, we support democracy, but that doesn't mean we have to support governments that get elected as a result of democracy,'' US President George W Bush said last week.

''I weep about the suffering of the Palestinians,'' Bush said, but added the Hamas-led government had to make a choice.

The United States hopes to isolate Hamas and pressure it to recognise Israel, renounce violence and abide by peace accords.

So far, the Islamic militant group has refused, although its leaders have said they would observe a cease-fire with Israel.

US law bars the government from providing direct assistance to any group on the State Department's list of terrorist organisations.

Reuters PG VP0115

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