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U.S. lawmakers question aid to new Palestinian unity government

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senior U.S. lawmakers said on Monday that they would be reluctant to send aid to the new unity government between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Palestinian Liberation Organization and the Islamist group Hamas.

Abbas swore in the government in a reconciliation deal with Hamas that led Israel to freeze U.S.-brokered peace talks.

"Hamas is no partner for peace; nor a legitimate recipient of aid," California Republican U.S. Representative Ed Royce, chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement. "While the ‘unity government’ hides behind the facade of nonpartisan bureaucrats, it was only born out of support from Hamas – a terrorist organization that continues to call for Israel’s annihilation."

The U.S. Congress authorizes $500 million in annual aid Washington sends to the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority.

Palestinian leader Abbas, whose Palestinian Authority is dependent on foreign aid, appeared to be banking on Western acceptance - over Israeli objections - of a 16-member cabinet of what he described as politically unaffiliated technocrats.

Setting a policy in line with U.S. and European Union demands, the Western-backed leader said his administration would continue to honor agreements and principles at the foundation of a peace process with Israel.

Virginia U.S. Representative Eric Cantor, the number two Republican in the House of Representatives, said the Obama administration and Congress should suspend aid while they assess the new government.

"The laws of the United States prohibit assistance to terrorist organizations," Cantor said in a statement.

New York Representative Nita Lowey, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee and State and Foreign Operations subcommittee, said she still believed the United States should continue to promote negotiations toward creating a two-state solution.

Lowey did not call for an aid cut-off, but said in a statement she was "deeply disappointed" with the announcement of a Palestinian government including "the terrorist organization Hamas."

(Editing by Grant McCool)

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