JERUSALEM: Israeli officials were preparing yesterday to head for Washington in a bid to secure US$12bil (RM45.6bil) in emergency aid ahead of an anticipated war on Iraq, as the United States again criticised its ally for its actions in the Palestinian territories.
Meanwhile, low-level violence continued on the ground, with five Israeli soldiers and a Palestinian wounded during fighting in the town of Jenin and the arrest of militants elsewhere in the West Bank.
The delegation, to be headed by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's chief of staff, Dov Weissglas, is to leave yesterday or early today to finalise details of the request made several months ago, an official said.
A third of the package would be earmarked for military and security spending amid the 27-month conflict with the Palestinians and the looming war in Iraq, while the remaining US$8bil (RM30.4bil) would be in the form of loan guarantees, the official said on condition of anonymity.
“The US administration is looking favourably at the request. It's part of the very deep and involved strategic relations that the United States has with Israel,” the official said.
US President George W. Bush “has made it very clear he was going to support the Israeli economy because he knows it's a strong economy,” he said.
“But the economic situation has suffered because of the world downturn, the problems in the hi-tech sector and the war that has been imposed on us,” he said, referring to the Palestinian uprising.
Israel is already the biggest recipient of US foreign aid, receiving nearly US$3bil (RM11.4bil) annually.
The latest meeting will be the third in two months. Weissglas travelled to Washington twice in November to push for a package.
In his last meeting with Bush in October, Sharon stressed the need for emergency aid to cushion the cost of the Palestinian uprising and expressed his worries about the impact on Israel of a possible US military invasion of Iraq.
Meanwhile, Washington delivered a rare rebuke to its main Middle East ally on Friday over demolitions of Palestinian houses.
In the southern West Bank, Israeli forces moved into Beit Fakhi village in the Hebron region on Friday and blew up the home of Mahmud Ismael Barwish, a local Islamic Jihad leader arrested six months ago, the army said.
Palestinian security sources also said Israeli tanks backed by bulldozers staged a brief incursion into the southern Gaza Strip flashpoint town of Rafah and demolished two houses near the border with Egypt.
The Israeli army has bulldozed or dynamited more than 110 houses in the West Bank since August, when it launched a demolition policy that human rights groups have condemned as collective punishment.
However, it has been razing Palestinian houses in Rafah for much longer, creating an ever-widening strip of rubble which serves as a buffer zone between the first row of inhabited houses and Israeli-controlled border posts. – AFP
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