The US House of Representatives overwhelmingly backed on Tuesday, May 23, a bill calling for the Palestinian Authority to be designated a "terrorist sanctuary," imposing broad restrictions on US aid to the Palestinian Authority.

The legislation, passed by 361 votes to 37 with nine abstentions, bans visas for entry into the United States of any official or member of the PA or any component of the PA, according to Reuters.

It also recommends withholding US contributions to the United Nations proportional to the amount the world body provides the PA.

The vote came during Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s first trip to Washington.

The US is leading an international campaign to isolate the Hamas-led Palestinian government and has ordered diplomats and contracts not to communicate with the cabinet ministers.

Aid Restrictions

The bill also imposes broad restrictions on US aid to the Palestinian Authority.

It would cut off direct and indirect US assistance to the PA, other than aid to meet "the basic human health needs" of the Palestinian people and for measures Congress approves on a case by case basis.

It would limit aid through nongovernmental organizations and restrict diplomatic contacts with representatives of Hamas.

Rep. Tom Lantos of California, top International Relations Committee Democrat and the bill’s co-sponsor, claimed the bill was "carefully crafted and aimed at Hamas."

"The United States must make it unambiguously clear that we will not support a terrorist regime," said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican.

The US and the EU, which is the main donor to the Palestinians with 500 million euros a year, have suspended aid to the PA leaving it on the verge of bankruptcy.

Punitive

The bill is more restrictive than a Senate version that has not yet moved through committees.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat, led a small charge against the bill in nearly three hours of debate on Monday, May 22.

He said it was too punitive on Palestinian and "onerous and burdensome" on the administration’s diplomatic efforts.

"I am afraid that this legislation may well backfire by actually strengthening the hands of extremists," he said.

The Bush administration contends this bill would tie its hands.

Facing insurmountable bipartisan momentum in the House for the sanctions bill, congressional aides said the administration likely will try to block companion legislation in the Senate to keep the measure from going to a House-Senate conference and reaching Bush’s desk.

The United Nations has warned that the Palestinians are on the verge of a humanitarian crisis due to severe shortage of food and medicine.

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