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U.S. mulls direct Palestinian aid

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Bush administration is talking to Congress about resuming direct U.S. assistance to the Palestinian Authority, the State Department said Thursday.

Deputy State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said the idea is "under consideration," but that "no decision has been made."

"We are interested in ways that we can help support the Palestinian people and the Palestinian leadership as they try to emerge from the past years of conflict and violence," Ereli said.

Charging the Palestinian Authority led by Yasser Arafat was corrupt, the Bush administration this year used the United Nations and other private aid groups to direct $127 million in U.S. assistance to the Palestinians.

Last year the Bush administration gave $20 million directly to the Palestinian Authority under former Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, which was "fully accounted for and used in the way it was intended."

After Arafat's death last week, Abbas was elected chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization. (Full story)

Abbas on Tuesday said officials will take steps to end lawlessness and violence in the Palestinian territories ahead of scheduled January 9 elections for president. (Full story)

Secretary of State Colin Powell will travel to Israel and the Palestinian territories Sunday and Monday, where he will talk with Israeli officials and the new Palestinian leadership on how to advance Palestinian elections in January. (Rice to succeed Powell)

"The secretary will meet with Israeli officials and the new Palestinian leadership to discuss how, during this period of transition, we can move forward toward peace and realize the shared goals of the president's vision of two states living side by side in peace and security," said spokesman Richard Boucher.

President Bush last week said Arafat's death ushers in a "new opportunity to make progress toward a lasting peace."

Officials said that the administration hopes to announce another $20 million in direct aid next month at a meeting of international donors for Palestinians.

The aid would be used for election support and to pay salaries of Palestinian public servants. Officials view it as a part of a renewed push for peace in the wake of Arafat's death.

After his visit, Powell will then travel to the Iraq Neighbors' Conference in Sharm al-Sheikh, Egypt, to be held on November 22 and 23.

Powell expects to meet there with his Mideast quartet counterparts -- representatives from the European Union, the United Nations and Russia. The quartet has been involved in pursuing efforts to promote peace between Israel and the Palestinians.


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