International donors held a conference in support of the Palestinian economy for the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip here on Monday, during which they pledged a total of 4.481 billion U.S. dollars of donation.
"We gathered today 4.481 billion dollars (for rebuilding Gaza),"Egypt's Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit said in a chair's conclusion statement at a press briefing following the Gaza aid conference held in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, adding "it's beyond of our expectations."
In addition to previous pledges, Abul Gheit said, the total sum of international donations reached 5.2 billion dollars, which has exceeded the Palestinian request of amount.
The Palestinian National Authority (PNA) requested 2.8 billion dollars for Gaza reconstruction and Palestinian economic recovery, according to an official report by acting Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
Senior officials and representatives from over 70 countries and 15 international organizations attended the conference to plan the reconstruction of the Palestinian enclave.
Palestinians pass house ruins at Jabalia refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip March 2, 2009. An international donor's conference was held on Monday in Egypt in an effort to raise funds for the rebuilding of the Gaza Strip battered by Israel's 22-day military attacks.
UN Secratary-General Ban Ki-moon, Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, among other officials and delegates, attended the meeting opened by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
A Palestinian child sits by house rubbles at Jabalia refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip March 2, 2009. An international donor's conference was held on Monday in Egypt in an effort to raise funds for the rebuilding of the Gaza Strip battered by Israel's 22-day military attacks
The Israeli attacks against Gaza that ended on Jan. 18, had killed more than 1,300 Palestinians and wounded 5,500 others. According to UN reports, the attacks also destroyed more than 14,000 homes, 68 government buildings and 31 offices of nongovernmental organizations.
Chinese envoy to the Middle East Sun Bigan attends the international donors' conference to plan the reconstruction of the Palestinian Gaza Strip, in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, on March 2, 2009.
HAMAS GETS NOTHING
The PNA in the West Bank and the Hamas-run government in Gaza have each insisted on leading the rebuilding effort, but Western countries, which consider Hamas as a terror group, have said they can only work with Abbas.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy shakes hands with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the international donors' conference to plan the reconstruction of the Palestinian Gaza Strip, in Sharm El-Sheikh of Egypt, March 2, 2009
Hillary Clinton has pledged at the conference that the United States will donate 900 million dollars for the Palestinians to shore up the PNA and help rebuild Gaza, but stressed that no funds will go to Hamas.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (R) shakes hands with European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana during the international donors' conference to plan the reconstruction of the Palestinian Gaza Strip, in Sharm El-Sheikh of Egypt, March 2, 2009. Officials and representatives from more than 70 countries and some 15 organizations attended the conference kicked off Monday morning
Among the total U.S. funding, only a third, or 300 million dollars, is earmarked for the reconstruction of Gaza, which will be channelled via the United Nations and other organizations, U.S. State Department spokesman Robert Wood said earlier, while stressing that "Hamas is not getting any of this money."
Photo taken on March 2, 2009 shows the general view of an international donors' conference to plan the reconstruction of the Palestinian Gaza Strip in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, on March 2, 2009. Officials and representatives from more than 70 countries and some 15 organizations attended the conference kicked off on Monday morning
Some 200 million dollars will be provided to help cover the PNA budget shortfalls and another 400 million dollars is offered to assist Palestinian economic and institutional reforms, according to the spokesman.
Abbas also said last Saturday that the international aid has to go through the PNA in coordination with international organizations.
"We expect quick international aid from all parties to completely rebuild the Gaza Strip," Abbas told reporters following a meeting with Javier Solana, adding he also expects that the PNA as in the past will be the only mechanism in accepting aid for Gaza.
Solana also said the European Commission "insists in agreement with the president (Abbas) that the mechanism used to deploy the money is the one that represents the Palestinian (National) Authority," adding "I don't think there is a need for new mechanisms."
The European Commission announced last Friday that it will pledge 436 million euros (566 million dollars) in aid to the Palestinians at the international donors' conference.
Among other nations, Saudi Arabia has pledged 1 billion dollars for the Palestinians, while Qatar pledged 250 million dollars and Algeria 100 million dollars.
The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) announced on Sunday to donate nearly 1.65 billion dollars at Monday's conference to ease Gaza's humanitarian situation and help its social and economic reconstruction.
Hamas, not invited to the Sharm el-Sheikh meeting, has slammed taking his movement away from joining the Gaza reconstruction conference.
Yehia Musa, a Gaza Hamas lawmaker, said on Monday in a statement that "Gaza reconstruction conference is a continuation of the criminal war series on Gaza. It aims at achieving the political goals that the war on Gaza failed to achieve."
Hamas routed Fatah-dominated security forces loyal to Abbas to seize the Gaza Strip in June 2007, one year after it won parliamentary elections. Abbas then sacked the Palestinian unity government led by Hamas and set up a Western-backed government in the occupied West Bank.
The schism between Hamas and Fatah has enervated efforts to strike a peace deal with Israel to establish a Palestinian statehood and poses a major obstacle to Western-funded reconstruction in the Gaza Strip following Israel's massive offensive against Hamas.
OPEN CROSSINGS, CEASEFIRE URGED
Participants at the conference have also urged instant opening of Gaza border crossings and a durable ceasefire to lay foundation for international rebuilding efforts.
The UN chief warned that aid for Gaza's rebuilding would be impossible to proceed if border crossings between Gaza and Israel remain closed.
"The situation at the border crossings is intolerable," he said, adding "aid workers do not have access. Essential commodities cannot get in" and therefore the "first and indispensable goal" is to open crossings.
Israel has tightened a blockade on Gaza since it launched the massive offensive in Palestinian coastal enclave, only allowing in limited humanitarian aid.
Ban also stressed that the reconstruction of Gaza Strip needs a durable ceasefire in the Palestinian enclave. "When building a house, we begin with the foundation.... When it comes to rebuilding Gaza, this foundation must be a durable ceasefire," he said.
"We need to think comprehensively" to discuss the Palestinian economy and Gaza reconstruction, he added.
The Egyptian foreign minister said in the chair's conclusion statement that participants have called for "immediate, unconditional and sustained re-opening of Israel's crossings with the Gaza Strip to allow movement of people and goods into Gaza," and "demanded that Israel fully respect its obligations under international law and international humanitarian law."
The donors also expressed their concern that agreement on a lasting ceasefire in Gaza could not be reached till present, while underscoring the importance of achieving Palestinian national reconciliation, as another necessary requisite for any successful reconstruction effort undertaken by the donor community.
Abbas in his speech also urged for "a political settlement" to the conflict with Israel to go with the financial aid, saying the rebuilding efforts will remain powerless and threatened without a political settlement to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, while the U.S. secretary of state, on her first Middle East trip since taking post, stressed that the international efforts to rebuild Gaza cannot be separated from the peace process between the Palestinians and Israel.
After a 22-day conflict, both Hamas and Israel declared a ceasefire on Jan. 18, but the truce remained fragile due to agreement on a Egypt-brokered long-term truce deal was hard to reach between Hamas and Israel. Sporadic exchanges of fire have not stopped since.
Hamas has offered an 18-month truce on the condition of lifting Israeli blockade and opening Gaza border crossings. But the Israeli insisted that there would be no long-term truce before its soldier Gilad Shalit, held by Hamas, is released. Hamas has demanded the release of 1,400 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Shalit.
The uncertainty of Israeli politics also undermines the chances of an impending deal between Israel and Palestinians. Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has turned down Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu's offer to pull her Kadima party into a government led by the latter's Likud party after failing to persuade Netanyahu to support plans for a two-states-for-two-peoples solution to the Palestinian-Israeli issue and changes to the electoral system. Source:Xinhua