Associated Press – 2009-03-04 21:32:52
US to Pledge $900 Million for Palestinian Aid
SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt (March 2, 2009) —US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton today will pledge about $300 million in US humanitarian aid for the war-torn Gaza Strip, plus about $600 million in assistance to the Palestinian Authority, a US official said Sunday.
State Department spokesman Robert Wood told reporters traveling with Clinton on Sunday that she would announce the donations at an international pledging conference at this Red Sea resort. The conference is seeking money for Gaza and the Palestinian economy.
Wood said that while all of the money is subject to approval by Congress, the intent is to provide about $200 million to help the Palestinian Authority shore up a budget shortfall and another $400 million to assist Palestinian institutional reforms and economic development. Wood said some of the $400 million might wind up aiding Gaza, but he said that would depend on the Palestinian Authority.
Getting US humanitarian aid quickly to Gaza is complicated by the US refusal to funnel it through the Hamas militant movement that rules the area. The United States considers Hamas a terrorist organization. Wood said the US aid that does not go directly to the Palestinian Authority would be funneled to Gaza through international organizations and agencies.
The secretary of state also carried hopes of finding a path toward an Israeli-Palestinian peace.
Clinton arrived at Sharm el-Sheikh after an overnight flight from Washington and went quickly into a meeting with the Obama administration’s Middle East peace envoy, George Mitchell, who is touring the region.
Clinton also will visit Israel and meet with Palestinian leaders in the West Bank, including Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Donors at the Sharm el-Sheikh conference will be asked to fund a $2.8 billion reconstruction plan put together by Abbas’ prime minister, Salam Fayyad, an internationally respected economist. Hamas, which does not recognize Israel’s right to exist, was not invited.
Olmert apprised of likely indictment
Israel’s attorney general notified Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday that he plans to indict him on suspicion of illicitly taking cash-stuffed envelopes from an American businessman.
Before a decision on an indictment is made, Olmert will have one last chance to try to persuade Attorney General Meni Mazuz not to charge him, Mazuz said in a news release.
Five corruption investigations are pending against Olmert in all, and he has denied wrongdoing in each one.
Morris Talansky, a 76-year-old New Yorker, testified in an Israeli court last year that he handed envelopes stuffed with tens of thousands of dollars to Olmert, in part to help finance a luxurious lifestyle. Olmert has said the funds were legal campaign contributions.
© 2009 Hearst Communications Inc.
80 Nations to Meet on Pledging Aid to Gaza
Karin Laub / Associated Press
BEIT LAHIYA, Gaza Strip (March 1, 2009) —The seven foul-smelling lagoons of sewage near Gaza’s coast were supposed to be replaced by a globally funded waste treatment plant. Instead, they epitomize the nightmare faced by foreign donors as they seek to rebuild the territory and open a pathway to peace.
The multimillion-dollar project has been delayed by violence and a 20-month-old border closure that have made it difficult to bring supplies into Gaza. Now, after Israel’s devastating military offensive, clearing the lagoons is just one part of a much bigger challenge.
On Monday, some 80 donor countries meeting in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh will be asked to pledge at least $2.8 billion in aid to Gaza.
There’s plenty of good will – Saudi Arabia has already promised $1 billion and the United States $900 million – and the level of representation will be stellar, including US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and French President Nicholas Sarkozy.
But for reconstruction to move forward smoothly, toward pacifying Gaza and opening new horizons for Mideast peace efforts, a series of improbable events would have to happen.
Gaza’s Hamas rulers would probably have to reconcile with their moderate West Bank rivals led by President Mahmoud Abbas. The Islamic militants would then have to soften their violent anti-Israel ideology and agree to share power with Abbas.
Israel and Egypt would have to recognize Hamas’ governing role and reopen the borders they closed after Hamas seized Gaza by force in June 2007. Recently, Israel has also linked a border opening to long-stalled negotiations on a prisoner swap with Hamas.
But the more probable prospect is that the Palestinians will fail to heal their split and Gaza’s borders will remain largely closed. In this case, Israel will continue to keep tight control over concrete, steel and other supplies needed for rebuilding 15,000 homes destroyed or damaged in the offensive it launched to halt Hamas rocket fire.
A Hamas-Israel truce being mediated by Egypt envisions open borders. But Israel says it can’t allow supplies in freely for fear Hamas – committed to the destruction of the Jewish state – would hijack concrete and steel to build bunkers and rockets. Instead, Israel is willing to allow in specific hardware consignments, in close coordination with international aid agencies.
Meanwhile, border restrictions are hindering even emergency relief, said John Ging, the top U.N. aid official in Gaza. Thousands of tons of donations are stuck, he said, because Israel can’t handle a large truck volume at the small passages it’s running in place of the main Gaza cargo crossing shut down after the Hamas takeover.
Israel says the United Nations isn’t sending as many trucks as it could. Ging warned that anything less than open borders would spell disaster and set the stage for more violence. Gaza was in bad shape even before the war, he noted, with three-fourths of 1.4 million Gazans receiving some aid because the blockade deepened poverty and wiped out private industry.
© 2009 Hearst Communications Inc.
UN: Israel, Pay for Destroyed Gaza Supplies
Ben Hubbard / Associated Press
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (January 22, 2009) — The United Nations’ humanitarian chief suggested Thursday that Israel should pay for the hundreds of tonnes of food and other supplies destroyed when Israeli shells struck the main UN compound in Gaza.
Touring Gaza to assess what is most urgently needed in the coastal strip, John Holmes called the steep Palestinian casualty toll from Israel’s offensive “extremely shocking” and suggested the United Nations might ask Israel to compensate it for wartime damage to UN compounds in Gaza. Hundreds of tonnes of humanitarian aid were destroyed by Israeli shelling that struck the main UN compound.
“We want to make sure it is properly investigated and that we get proper accountability for it and proper compensation if it is needed and I think it will be needed,” Mr. Holmes told reporters.
Footage shot by an AP crew shows Palestinian workers clearing blocked tunnels that have been used to smuggle fuel and other essentials into Gaza, and were targeted by Israel’s recent bombing campaign.
Israel waged a three-week war meant to end rocket fire on southern Israel from Hamas-ruled Gaza. Nearly 1,300 Palestinians, a majority of them civilians, have died in the offensive, according to Gaza health officials. Thirteen Israelis were also killed, according to the government.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the war could help hasten the return of a captive soldier long held by Palestinians in Gaza. Israeli media said some cabinet ministers have softened their positions on releasing Palestinian political prisoners in exchange for the soldier, signalling the government is trying to work out a deal with Hamas ahead of Israeli elections next month.
Violence on both sides has marred the ceasefire and on Thursday a Palestinian man and girl walking near the shore in Gaza City were wounded by a shell fired from an Israeli gunboat, a Gaza health official said. nother shell landed 100 metres away in an empty area near a UN aid distribution centre. And heavy-calibre bullet fire struck at least one house in the area, a witness said.
The Israeli military said it was firing to deter a Palestinian fishing vessel that had strayed off-limits.
On the first day of a five-day trip to the region, Mr. Holmes said he was looking at immediate humanitarian needs and thinking about longer-term reconstruction in Gaza. The biggest concerns, he said, are providing clean water, sanitation, electricity and shelter to people displaced by the fighting.
Gaza’s blockaded border crossings will have to be opened to allow reconstruction to begin, he said. “Goods have to be able to get in freely and in the right quantities, including construction materials, so that reconstruction can start.”
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