Israelis, Palestinians deny Tillerson remark on payments to attackers

The measure came just a day after Tillerson told the Senate Appropriations Committee on Foreign Operations that virtually all U.S. partners and allies were calling on Washington to improve its relations with Russian Federation.

The increase in aid to the Palestinians, who continue to sponsor and incite terror attacks on Israel, drew opposition from Democrats and Republicans who criticized Tillerson for seeking to increase this aid while cutting the overall State Department budget by more than 30 percent.

Issa Qaraqe, head of prisoner affairs for the PA, said he knows "the allowances [to terrorists' families] were paid this month, and they will be next month too".

The comments by Mr. Tillerson, in testimony before the House Foreign Relations Committee, appeared to mark a departure from longstanding US policy and represents a potential break from other world powers, including Germany and France, who have supported the cease-fire and peace accords reached in Minsk, Belarus, in 2014 and 2015.

Separately, 16 retired senior generals and other ex-military officers said they would submit joint testimony to the Senate on Wednesday about the importance of foreign aid to national security.

"If they think that we're somehow willing to relax the sanctions on them before they've complied with the Minsk framework and left Crimea, I think it just will encourage Putin to continue his bullying", Engel said.

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said he'd seen no signs the Palestinian Authority had changed its policy. Support for Palestinian prisoners and families of so-called martyrs enjoys wide consensus among the Palestinian public.

Senator Lindsey Graham, the Republican chairman of the subcommittee that oversees the State Department budget, said he would argue against that proposal when Tillerson testifies to his panel on Tuesday afternoon. "As of this moment I have seen no cessation and no intention to stop paying the terrorists' families".

They would also hit Russians accused of human rights abuses, and sanction Russian mining, metals, shipping, and railways companies, thus going beyond the energy and financial firms previously targeted.

Mr. Tillerson told members of the House committee on Wednesday that the administration needs flexibility to "turn up the heat when we need to, but also to insure that we have the ability to maintain a constructive dialogue". "They have indicated they would, they have indicated to me they were in the process of changing that".

The "martyr's fund" was set up in 1967 by the PLO, the group that formally represents all Palestinians. However, the Trump administration still endorses a budget proposal that would increase aid to the Palestinian government by almost five percent, bringing the total amount of USA aid to around $215 million.

Israel continuously argues that their payments promote violence.

Israel, which argues that such stipends promote violence, stepped up a campaign against the fund after a wave of Palestinian attacks began in September 2015.

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