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Key US legislator says will block aid to Lebanon
By Adam Entous Sun Aug 27
JERUSALEM (Reuters) – A key U.S. legislator said in Israel on Sunday he would block aid President George W. Bush promised Lebanon and free the funds only when Beirut agreed to the deployment of international troops on 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 U.S. 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 Lebanese Hizbollah guerrillas.
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.”
Syria has threatened to shut its border with Lebanon if U.N. troops deploy there. Israel says it will not lift a sea and air blockade of Lebanon unless a U.N. force helps ensure that no new weapons reach Hizbollah in the south.
In response to the dispute between Israel and Syria over the deployment, Lebanon undertook on Thursday to prevent smuggling.
The United Nations 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 that the damage from the war will cost $3.6 billion to repair and Bush administration officials have expressed concern that Hizbollah was gaining an early advantage in rebuilding shattered south Lebanon.
Lantos, 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 both 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.