Prime Minister Paul Martin has announced that Canada will back up its commitment to Middle East peace with $9.5 million in new aid to help the Palestinians build homes and strengthen their new state's legal system.
Martin made the announcement during the visit of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to Ottawa, the federal capital, a day after US President George Bush promised $50 million in housing aid for Palestinians.
"Canada and the international community must clearly do much more at this crucial moment in the Middle East," said Martin, who also called on Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to stop the expansion of Jewish settlements.
Martin praised Abbas, who was making his first official visit to North America since he was elected in January.
"President Abbas has demonstrated his commitment to reform and his commitment to peace; he has rejected terrorism, he has rejected violence," Martin said. "We commend him for his strong leadership, and we reiterate our support for all that he is doing."
Martin said the aid had been designated for judicial reform and housing projects, monitors for the coming Palestinian elections, border management and scholarships for Palestinian refugee women in Lebanon.
Abbas declined to compare the US and Canadian offers.
"The aid that we received is not conditional on numbers," Abbas said. "Just the intention of helping and putting that into action is deemed by us something that we can respect."
Martin, who called the $9.5 million commitment "just a
Martin called on Sharon to stop
the expansion of settlements
down payment," noted it was in addition to the $8 million
Canada spends annually for education, health and relief
through the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine
Abbas vowed that the Palestinians would continue to crack down on resistance fighters and build a new state based on democratic principles.
"We are committed to the vision of these two states as indicated in the road map, which has been globally accepted; that there will be a state of Israel and a state of Palestinians living side by side in peace," Abbas said, referring to the plan to create an independent Palestinian state on lands captured by Israelis in the 1967 Middle East war.
The announcement came as Arab Canadians had been urging their government to demonstrate its commitment to the region.
Elias Hazineh, president of the Palestine House for education and culture outside Toronto, said he was impressed by the aid pledge, but he noted that Canada, two weeks earlier, had pledged $135 million in aid to the conflict-ridden Darfur region of Sudan.
"I'm hoping Canada will find the political courage to put a lot more money into Palestine"
Palestine House president
"I'm hoping Canada will find the political courage to put a lot more money into Palestine," he said.
Canada is a close ally of Israel but also a strong proponent of Palestinian statehood.
Ottawa infuriated some Arab Canadians by announcing that Israel for the first time would participate in annual war games later this month in the western province of Alberta.
Israel will send 10 F-16 fighter jets and about 150 air force crew to participate in the exercises over the sprawling Cold Lake weapons range.
"Many of us were indeed shocked to learn about this," said Hussein Amery, president of the National Council on
Canada-Arab Relations. "The establishment of ties with the
Israeli military taints our armed forces."
Amery said, however, that Canada generally has a balanced approach to the Middle East and he was pleased with Martin's announcement on Friday.
"We were a little disappointed that we didn't hear a little more about Israel living by the rule of law, but I think overall it reinforced Canada's position as an honest broker in the region," he said.