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US Provides $200 Million in Aid to Palestinians

The United States has announced a financial aid package to the Palestinian Authority. The announcement was made as a senior U.S. official prepares to hold talks with Syria.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the $200 million is to help the Palestinian Authority improve the lives of people in the region. And she said the United States will continue to be a partner with the Palestinian people.

"I call on all nations that wish to see a strong, viable Palestinian state, living in peace and security with its neighbors to join us in supporting the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinian Authority has proven to be a reliable partner for peace," she said.

State Department officials said the $200 million is not new assistance. It is part of $900 million in U.S. funds that Washington pledged in March during a donor's conference in Egypt.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration's special Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, arrives in Damascus Saturday for talks with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad - talks expected to take place Sunday.

Syria is a vital player in the Middle East. It has close ties with Iran and supports Hezbollah in Lebanon and the militant group Hamas, which controls the Gaza strip.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton repeated the conditions necessary for Hamas to take part in any negotiation on a lasting peace in the Middle East.

"Hamas has to renounce violence, recognize Israel and agree to the enforcement of prior agreements that have been entered into by the Palestinian Authority. That hasn't yet come to pass, but I think the path forward for Hamas is very clear," she said.

After his meetings in Syria, Mitchell will travel to Israel where he is expected to meet with senior Israeli officials. He will also meet Palestinian officials in the West bank. He will then travel to Egypt and Bahrain.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley explained the significance of Mitchell's trip to the region.

"We are touching base with leaders on every trip just to make clear that as this process goes forward, one of the critical elements will be making sure that there is support in the region for the difficult decisions and compromises that are going to have to be made if and when we do get into formal negotiations," he said.

Mitchell has already been to the area several times since President Barack Obama named him earlier this year as his special Middle East envoy.