Monday, August 28, 2006

US legislator vows to block aid to Beirut

Monday, August 28, 2006
US legislator vows to block aid to Beirut
Tom lantos: funds should depend on having un troops seal Syrian border
Compiled by Daily Star staff

A key US legislator said in Israel Sunday he would block aid that President George W. Bush has promised Lebanon and free funds only when Beirut agreed to the deployment of international troops along its the border with Syria. "The international community must use all our available means to stiffen Lebanon's spine and to convince the government of Lebanon to have the new UNIFIL troops on the Syrian border in adequate numbers," said Tom Lantos, the ranking Democrat on the US House of Representatives' International Relations Committee. Lantos said he was putting a legislative hold on Bush's proposal to provide $230 million in aid for Lebanon in the aftermath of the 34-day war between Israel and Hizbullah. As the top Democrat on the International Relations Committee, Lantos has the power to hold up legislation. "It is very much my hope that I will be able to lift the hold when the reasons will no longer be present," he said at Israel's Foreign Ministry, where he met Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni after talks with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. "My purpose is not to withhold aid from Lebanon, my purpose ... is to persuade the government of Lebanon that the closing of the Lebanon-Syria border to arms smuggling from Iran and Syria is in the prime national interest of Lebanon and the Lebanese people." But Fouad Siniora's Cabinet has refused to deploy UNIFIL along the Lebanese-Syrian borders and says the subject is not up for discussion. "It is out of the question to deploy UNIFIL along our borders with Syria," an aid for Siniora told The Daily Star. "Lantos can say and do whatever he wants and Cabinet will only agree to deploy the troops if it sees there is a need to do so," he added. Hizbullah politburo member Ahmad Malli said his party welcomes Lantos' position and said his party does not accept donations from the US. "The US sponsored the Israeli aggression against Leb-anon. The children and the women were bombed and killed by American-made weapons. So we don't want any money from this criminal administration," Malli told The Daily Star.

Syria has threatened to close its border with Lebanon if UN troops deploy there. Israel says it will not lift a sea and air blockade of Lebanon unless a UN force helps ensure that no new weapons reach Hizbullah in the South.

In response to the dispute between Israel and Syria over the deployment, Lebanon undertook Thursday to prevent smuggling from occurring. The UN has approved an expanded force of up to 15,000 troops to beef up the 2,000-strong UNIFIL contingent that has been in South Lebanon since 1978. The Lebanese government has estimated the damage from the war will cost $3.6 billion to repair and Bush administration officials have expressed concern that Hizbullah was gaining an early advantage in rebuilding shattered South Lebanon.

Lantos, who is from California, said he would introduce bipartisan legislation to provide more aid to Israel, which already receives more than $2 billion annually in assistance from the United states.

"Lebanon will get help from Europe, the Arab world and the United States. Unless the United States provides some aid to Israel, Israel receives no aid," Lantos said. He did not provide any estimate of how much money he would seek for Israel. - Agencies

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