The United States has given $20 million to the Palestinian Authority for urgently needed infrastructure repairs in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The money is to pay for roads and other public services damaged or destroyed by 33 months of violence.
It was paid directly to the Palestinian Authority -- a first for the Americans, who have previously channeled aid through international organizations.
The policy change is being seen as an attempt by Washington to show its approval of the performance of Palestinian Prime Minster Mahmoud Abbas. On Wednesday it was reported that Mr. Abbas will visit Washington in the near future for talks with President Bush and other top U.S. officials.
The Palestinian official had been invited to the White House several times but reports said he had not been ready to commit to a visit because of an ongoing feud with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat. Israeli media reported Thursday that the rift has been mended and that the Abbas trip has the full support and blessing of Mr. Arafat.
Both the American and Israeli governments have refused to deal directly with Mr. Arafat, who they say is an impediment to peace. The Israelis accuse him of playing a direct role in Palestinian attacks on Israelis.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is also due to visit Washington toward the end of this month, and it is not yet clear whether his trip might coincide with the Abbas visit or if any talks between the two might take place.
Norwegian Prime Minister Magne Bondevik said Wednesday that there would be a Sharon-Abbas meeting on Sunday for more discussions on the next steps in implementing the so-called road map peace plan. He spoke following talks in Oslo with Mr. Sharon at the end of the Israeli leader's European tour. Israeli officials said that a meeting is planned for Sunday but Palestinian officials have not confirmed the date. There has been no word on where such a meeting might take place.