US releases $500 million in frozen aid to PA
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- The United States has released nearly $500 million in aid to the Palestinian Authority which had been frozen by US congress, an official said Friday.
"To date, we have moved $295.7 million in fiscal year 2012 money... and $200 million in fiscal year 2013 assistance," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters Friday, Agence France Presse said.
The first sum reportedly comprised some $197.7 million allocated under the 2012 budget for USAID economic, development and humanitarian assistance, together with $100 million allocated for narcotics control, AFP reported.
The $200 million will be allocated under the 2013 budget and be used for direct budget support.
State Department spokeswoman Nuland had said in February that the department was talking with Congress about the withheld aid, with Secretary of State John Kerry promising to keep working with Congress to release budget support funds for the Palestinian Authority.
In 2011, US Congress froze $200 million in aid to the PA as punishment for seeking statehood at the United Nations. In 2012, the UN voted to admit Palestine as a non-member state, with Congress freezing the US administration's request for funds.
The PA ministry of finance has come under increased pressure in recent months, with PA employees, health workers and teachers all launching strike action in protest against the late payment of salaries.
Full salaries for public sector workers have not been paid in almost five months and government initiatives to increase revenue by collecting years worth of electricity and water bills from the public have been hampered by street protests.
In December, Israel began withholding $100 million it collects in duties every month for the PA, exacerbating a financial crisis and undermining the PA's ability to pay public sector salaries. Ma'anNews