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US passes aid package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan

The US Congress has given final approval to a $95 billion aid package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, with President Joe Biden quickly vowing to sign the long-delayed bill.

The package of legislation also contains text that would ban TikTok in the United States if the popular social media app does not soon cut ties with its Chinese parent company.

Days after the Republican-led House of Representatives cleared the aid, the Democratic-controlled Senate followed suit, passing it with bipartisan support on a 79-18 vote.

In addition to the $61 billion for Ukraine, the package earmarks $13 billion for Israel, more than $9 billion for humanitarian assistance in Gaza and elsewhere and $8 billion in military support for Taiwan as it faces down China.

“I will sign this bill into law and address the American people as soon as it reaches my desk tomorrow so we can begin sending weapons and equipment to Ukraine this week,” Mr Biden said in a statement shortly after the vote.

Passage of the bill, which also provides much-needed humanitarian assistance to Gaza, Sudan and Haiti, comes after months of acrimonious debate among politicians over how or even whether to help Ukraine defend itself.

A similar aid package passed the Senate in February, but had been stalled in the House, while Republican Speaker Mike Johnson, heeding calls from ex-president Donald Trump and his hardline allies, demanded concessions from President Biden on immigration policies, before a sudden recent reversal.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who visited Washington in December to plead for fresh aid, quickly thanked US politicians for passing the bill, saying on social media that he looks “forward to the bill being signed soon and the next military aid package matching the resoluteness that I always see in our negotiations”.

“Ukraine’s long-range capabilities, artillery, and air defence are critical tools for restoring just peace sooner.”

Israel’s foreign minister thanked the US Senate for approving military aid that he said sent a “strong message” to the country’s enemies.

“I thank the US Senate for passing the Israel aid package tonight with an overwhelming bipartisan majority,” Israel Katz posted on social media, adding the package was “a clear testament to the strength of our alliance and sends a strong message to all our enemies”.

Mr Biden said the bill’s approval showed America stands “resolutely for democracy and freedom, and against tyranny and oppression,” while the Senate’s top Democrat, Chuck Schumer, said it sends a message that the United States “will not turn our back on you”.

The Ukraine measure also allows Mr Biden to confiscate and sell Russian assets and provide the money to Kyiv to finance reconstruction, a move that has been embraced by other G7 nations.

The United States has been the chief military backer of Ukraine in its war against Russia, but Congress had not approved large-scale funding for its ally for nearly a year and a half.

The financing of the war has become a point of contention ahead of a presidential election in November that is expected to pit President Biden against Mr Trump once again.

TikTok targeted

The bill also takes aim at TikTok. It would force the platform to divest from its Chinese parent company ByteDance or face a nationwide ban in the United States, where it has around 170 million users.

Western officials have voiced alarm over the popularity of TikTok with young people, alleging it is subservient to Beijing and a conduit to spread propaganda and gather personal data, claims denied by the company.

TikTok and supporters have decried the prospective ban, warning it would trample free speech rights.

A Pentagon spokesperson told reporters it could deliver fresh aid to Ukraine “within days”.

Ukraine’s military is facing a severe shortage of weapons and new recruits as Moscow exerts constant pressure from the east.

And frontline circumstances are expected to worsen in the coming weeks, with Ukrainian intelligence head Kyrylo Budanov predicting a “rather difficult situation” beginning mid-May.

The debate over Ukraine assistance has highlighted wide divisions between Democrats and Republicans in Congress, but it has also revealed deep fissures within the conservative movement ahead of a likely Biden-Trump showdown in November.

While some hardline Republicans have been wary of sending funds overseas, Mr Biden and the Democrats frame Ukraine aid as an investment in US security against Russian aggression.

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