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Palestinian groups refuse aid tied to US antiterror pledge

RAMALLAH, West Bank -- Palestinian aid groups have refused to accept money from the US government because of a requirement that they pledge the money would not be used for terrorism, organizers said this week.

The US Agency for International Development has given Palestinian groups $1.3 billion in the past decade and is a key source of financing for the cash-strapped organizations. But USAID enacted the antiterrorism pledge requirement at the end of 2002 for new grants given worldwide.

Specifically, USAID demanded that groups sign a document pledging not to "provide material support or resources to any individual or entity that advocates, plans, sponsors, engages in, or has engaged in terrorist activity."

The Non-Governmental Organization Network, an umbrella group that includes 89 Palestinian aid groups, is leading the effort against signing the document.

Many Palestinian aid groups have refused to sign arguing it is the United States that determines what is a terrorist organization. They also fear that they might unwittingly finance projects of some of the 25 groups that the United States identifies as terrorists, such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

"Identifying most of the Palestinian factions as terrorist groups is unacceptable," said Siam Rashid, from the NGO network. "The other issue is that any activity could be identified as a terrorist activity."

Some groups, like Hamas, run social welfare programs, although the Islamic militant group also is responsible for most of the 106 suicide bombings against Israelis during three years of violence.

The Palestinian Red Crescent, which used to receive about $300,000 a year in aid, refused to sign the pledge and gave up its financing, deputy director Faiq Hussein said. "We would like to take funds from them, but without any conditions," Hussein said.

On Monday, NGO network held meetings to urge members to continue the protest and to inform them about alternative financing, such as through Europe and Japan, which do not require similar pledges.

A few Palestinian towns and aid groups have signed the USAID pledge.

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