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Donor Conference Pledges $5B for Gaza, Abbas Gov't


Donor conference pledges $5B for Gaza, Abbas gov't
By Salah Nasrawi and John Heilprin | Yahoo!News

But the meeting's broader message targeted Hamas, seeking to isolate the Islamic militant movement and force it to compromise in its control of Gaza. Many of the participants — including top diplomats from 45 nations — called for the creation of a Palestinian unity government led by Abbas that would be able to rebuild Gaza and pursue peace negotiations with Israel.

International donors pledged $5.2 billion Monday to rebuild the devastated Gaza Strip and fund the Palestinian government, giving a powerful boost to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and putting new pressure on the rival Hamas militant group to moderate.

The pledges far surpassed the $2.8 billion that Abbas' Palestinian Authority had set out to raise at the conference in this Egyptian Red Sea resort.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, attending the gathering on her first Mideast tour as U.S. secretary of state, told reporters the pledges showed the international community's "confidence" in Abbas and his administration, which has been severely weakened by its confrontation with Hamas.

Clinton issued a blunt call for urgent action to forge a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace. "We cannot afford more setbacks or delays — or regrets about what might have been, had different decisions been made," she told participants at the conference.

But the meeting's broader message targeted Hamas, seeking to isolate the Islamic militant movement and force it to compromise in its control of Gaza. Many of the participants — including top diplomats from 45 nations — called for the creation of a Palestinian unity government led by Abbas that would be able to rebuild Gaza and pursue peace negotiations with Israel.

"There will be only limited physical reconstruction without political reconstruction," British Foreign Secretary David Miliband told the gathering.

Stalled efforts to work out a formal cease-fire between Israel and Hamas has kept Gaza's borders sealed to most aid shipments, and many donors want to keep their money out of the hands of Hamas, which has refused to drop its opposition to Israel's existence.

In an apparent reference to Hamas, Miliband said factions preventing a new Palestinian government "through maximalist demands and defiant ultimatums do no service to the Palestinian people, or to themselves."

French President Nicolas Sarkozy told Palestinians, in a clear message to Hamas, to acknowledge there is "no other road to the creation of a Palestinian state but to engage resolutely in searching for a political solution and engage in a dialogue with Israel."

Israel waged a 22-day offensive in Gaza aimed at stopping Hamas rocket fire at Israeli towns. The assault wreaked widescale destruction in the tiny, crowded coastal territory, but Hamas remains firmly in charge. The group seized control of Gaza by force in 2007, driving out Abbas' Fatah movement.

While the conference showed its support for Abbas and his prime minister, Salam Fayyad, it left unclear when badly needed reconstruction in Gaza can begin.

Israel and Egypt have kept Gaza's borders largely closed since Hamas took over. While humanitarian supplies can enter, aid workers say full-scale rebuilding is impossible as long as the borders remain shut. Opening the crossings, however, will depend on Hamas and Israel reaching a long-term truce.

The issue of who will control the reconstruction money also remains unresolved. Abbas' government controls only the West Bank after being driven out of Gaza, and international donors refuse to deal with Hamas, which the United States, Europe and Israel consider a terrorist group.

Hamas was not invited to the Sharm el-Sheik gathering, adding to the pressures to compromise to ensure rebuilding begins.

A Hamas spokesman in Gaza, Fawzi Barhoum, denounced the conference for giving reconstruction "a political dimension."

"The conference came to strengthen Fayyad's illegal government and Mahmoud Abbas' authority against Hamas and the Palestinian people in Gaza, to blackmail Hamas," Barhoum said.

Saudi Arabia was the biggest single donor, promising $1 billion, followed by the United States, which promised $900 million.

The total figure included $4.48 billion in new pledges, while the remainder came from old, unfulfilled pledges that donors recommitted to giving, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said.

The money will be divided into three funds — one for budget support of Abbas' Palestinian Authority, one for immediate humanitarian aid to Gaza, and a third for rebuilding in Gaza, Palestinian Planning Minister Samir Abdullah said. He could not immediately say how much was going to each fund.

The humanitarian fund will likely be funneled through United Nations agencies and international aid groups. Donors are to determine later how to implement the reconstruction fund, but the conference said it would follow a reconstruction plan put together by the Palestinian prime minister.

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa told The Associated Press that getting the money into Gaza would be "no problem," saying it could be wired by bank according to established protocols to ensure it goes for schools and other rebuilding.

Moussa, often a sharp critic of the U.S., praised President Barack Obama's "new line" in the Mideast peace process. "There is a new spirit in Washington," he said. "Objective. Honest brokership."

In a significant move, Arab Persian Gulf nations — including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait — said the $1.6 billion they pledged will bypass both Hamas and Abbas. They said they would set up a joint office in Gaza to carry out reconstruction on their own, deciding on projects and implementing them.

The announcement seemed to be an attempt to assure Hamas that they are not favoring Abbas, while encouraging the militant group to reconcile with the Palestinian Authority.

Egypt has been trying to mediate a long-term truce between Hamas and Israel that will allow the opening of the Gaza Strip's borders, with provisions to ensure militants do not smuggle weapons into the territory.

The talks have been stalled since Israel said it will not sign a truce deal unless Hamas agrees to a prisoner exchange that frees an Israeli soldier, Sgt. Gilad Schalit, who has been held by Gaza militants since June 2006.

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They're in a tough bind; they want Abbas to kill his own -- but with what? Weapons cannot be allowed to touch the peaceful state of Israel. The peace-loving Israelis who bomb and kill at will must be forever safe. Hopefully for them there is no karma.
4Peace

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