US Congress frees up $40 million for Palestinians

The US State Department said Congress has released US$40 million in aid to the Palestinians, part of the nearly $200 million that was frozen over their bid for full UN recognition.

"We have been working with Congress for some time because we don't think it's in US national interests to keep this money frozen," State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland told reporters, saying US diplomats were "gratified" by the move.

The monies, provided through the Economic Support Fund, are targeted for economic and humanitarian support.

"We will continue to work with Congress when they come back in session to secure additional funding for these programs, because we think they're important," Nuland said.

"We think they aid in stability and security and development for the Palestinian people. That's in our interest, it's in their interest and we believe it's also in Israel's interest."

In November, officials said US lawmakers lifted a hold on nearly $200 million in aid to the Palestinians, mainly money for the police force, that had been suspended in response to the Palestinian bid for full UN membership.

However, officials also said lawmakers were maintaining a block on some $192 million in aid for infrastructure projects in the Gaza Strip, ruled by Hamas, and the Fatah-controlled West Bank.

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

During the UN General Assembly in September, the Palestinians launched a bid for full UN membership. They need nine votes out of 15 in the Security Council, but the United States has made clear that it would veto the bid.

The Unites States and Israel insist the only route to Palestinian statehood is through direct negotiations with Israel.

Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas has said efforts were continuing to gain full UN membership and admission to other international institutions.

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