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Palestinians Feel Effects Of Frozen U.S. Aid
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Palestinians Feel Effects Of Frozen U.S. Aid

Middle East

RENEE MONTAGNE, host: The Obama administration is urging Congress to rescind a decision blocking some aid to the Palestinians. Early this week, Congress put a hold on $200 million of aid money. That move was prompted by the Palestinian Authority's bid to be recognized as a state by the United Nations, something both the administration and Congress oppose. Sheera Frenkel reports from Ramallah that the cut in funding is already having effects in the Palestinian territories.

SHEERA FRENKEL: The Palestinian Medical Center, Ramallah's largest hospital, is bustling with patients. Doctors bolt down the hallway with slips of paper, and nurses frantically send out text messages to physicians in other departments. There is no intercom or communication system in the hospital. One was supposed to be established later this year. But now, like many other programs at this hospital, the U.S.-funded project has been suddenly halted. Doctor Niha Sawaheh is the head of the Emergency Department, where she says the system would have been particularly useful.

Dr. NIHA SAWAHEH: Once we get an emergency case, so you just press the button and all the emergency doctors would be with within seconds. We were working on that, but it, I mean, it has been stopped now.

FRENKEL: It was just one of the projects which recently lost its funding, due to the decision in Congress to freeze $200 million in funds for the Palestinian territories.

Ghassan Khatib is a spokesman for the Palestinian government. He says the frozen funds are a form of collective punishment to the Palestinian people.

GHASSAN KHATIB: I think that by such a decision, they're punishing the Palestinian public, in education and in health, in a way that is very, very difficult to understand.

FRENKEL: U.S. diplomats in Jerusalem declined to give details of which aid programs would be affected. The say, however, that the projects are being frozen, rather than cancelled.

Khatib says it's just a play on words. He estimates that 50 people have lost their jobs this week, and an additional 200 job cuts are expected to be announced.

KHATIB: The funds are already frozen, and some projects are already stopped. And some people are already fired from their jobs.

FRENKEL: In Washington, State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland says that efforts are currently underway to unfreeze the funds.

VICTORIA NULAND: We are continuing intensive consultations with the Congress on this money, because we feel that U.S. support for Palestinians institution building is a vital piece of what we're trying to do here. We're trying to prepare the ground for a successful and stable peace.

FRENKEL: The Palestinian Economics Minister, Hassan Abu Libdeh, says the funds were all used for important state-building programs, including setting up mobile schools, helping fund small businesses and improving health care.


FRENKEL: In her E.R., Niha Sawaheh says she doesn't understand the politics behind the decision.

SAWAHEH: These aids are very helpful for us. When they stop, it will affect us.

FRENKEL: The communications system is half-built she says, as is a system that was supposed to link up all the Palestinian hospitals on a shared computer network. The USAID projects gave doctors daily training sessions and advice, says Sawaheh, and provided them with much-needed medical equipment.


FRENKEL: As she walks through the E.R., she points to the devices that have already been delivered.

SAWAHEH: This is the CT scan. Before that, we used to send the patient to the private, and it was very expensive for the patient to pay for it. But now we can do it here.

FRENKEL: More equipment has been promised, says Sawaheh. But like the training and the communication system, it is now up in the air.

For NPR News, I'm Sheera Frenkel, in Ramallah.

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