Middle East
Donors discuss rebuilding Gaza
Gathering in Egyptian resort seeks to raise funds for battered territory's reconstruction.
Last Modified: 02 Mar 2009 14:12 GMT

Conditions will be attached to the $300m Hillary Clinton, left, is set to hand over for Gaza [AFP]

International donors meeting in Egypt are expected to pledge billions of dollars to rebuild the Gaza Strip after it was battered during Israel's 22-day offensive earlier this year.

Opening the conference in Sharm el-Sheikh on Monday, Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, urged donors to give generously, but said aid would not compensate for the 1,300 Palestinian lives lost during the war.

"I reach to you with an appeal from the heart to declare tangible pledges," he said.

Up to 75 countries and international organisations are being asked to fund a $2.8bn reconstruction plan designed by Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister, who wants a large part of the money to be channelled through the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority (PA).

Before the donor conference, the US state department announced that Washington would contribute $300m to meet "urgent" humanitarian needs in Gaza.

International goodwill

It remains unclear, however, how the planned reconstruction of Gaza will be undertaken.

The territory is controlled by Hamas and Israel has said it will refuse to approve projects that could benefit the group.

In depth

Analysis and features from Gaza after the war

"We definitely don't want to see the goodwill of the international community exploited by Hamas and serve Hamas's extremist purposes," Mark Regev, an Israeli government spokesman, said.

Hamas took full control of Gaza in June 2007 after driving out security forces loyal to Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president and leader of the rival Fatah group.

Hamas, which has not been invited to the conference in Egypt and is labelled a "terrorist" group by the US and the EU, has prepared its own reconstruction plan.

"We are welcoming anyone who wants to reconstruct Gaza, but without any political terms on Hamas or on the Palestinian people," Osama Hamdan, a Beirut-based Hamas official, told Al Jazeera.

Blockade 'intolerable'

Israel's blockade of the territory continues to prevent supplies, including construction materials, from crossing into Gaza.

Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, called the siege "intolerable" and said that border crossings into Gaza must be reopened to allow aid into the devastated territory.

The Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority (PA) says $2.8bn is needed to rebuild Gaza.

A total of $2.25bn has already been pledged by Saudi Arabia ($1bn), Qatar ($250m), Algeria ($100m) and the US ($900m).

The US says its financial assistance cannot be channelled through Gaza's Hamas-run government.

Israel has barred entry of material which it says may have military use, such as cement and steel rods.

"The situation at the border crossings is intolerable. Aid workers do not have access. Essential commodities cannot get in," he told donors.

"Our first and indispensable goal is to open crossings."

Marc Gopin, from the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University, told Al Jazeera there was "no real addressing of the political fallout in the long run".

"They can't even get in humanitarian aid at this point because the [Israeli] blockade is so severe," he said.

Abbas said that without a political settlement to the conflict any aid would be insufficient to meet Gazans' needs.

"We appreciate your presence and the financial, economic and technical support that you are giving to the Palestinian people but we insist on the pressing need to achieve substantial progress towards a just settlement," he said at the donor conference.

The Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip ended after Israel called a halt to the fighting on January 18. Hamas announced its own ceasefire the following day.

More than 1,300 Palestinians, including women and children, died during the war on Gaza, which Israel launched with the stated aim of preventing rocket fire from fighters based in the coastal territory.

At least 13 Israelis, three of them civilians, were also killed.

However, rocket fire has continued and Ehud Olmert, the outgoing Israeli prime minister, on Sunday vowed a "painful" response if the attacks on southern Israel did not stop.

US pledge

Hillary Clinton, on her first visit to the Middle East since becoming the US secretary of state, said that US aid to the Palestinians, which will include another $600m for the PA, would be part of a broader effort to achieve peace in the region.

"Only by acting now can we turn this crisis into an opportunity to move us closer to our shared goals," Clinton said in prepared remarks for the conference in the Egyptian coastal resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

However, she also confirmed that US funds would not be channelled through the Hamas government in Gaza.

"We have worked with the Palestinian Authority to install safeguards that will ensure our funding is only used where and for whom it is intended and does not end up in the wrong hands," she said.

"We will work with our Palestinian partners, President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad to address critical humanitarian, budgetary, security and infrastructure needs."

Saree Makdisi, the author of Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation, told Al Jazeera that "it sure looks like more of the same" US policy and that there was no difference between Clinton's stance and that of Condoleezza Rice, her predecessor.

"The most surprising thing isn't that there's no difference, it's that there's no difference in spite of the fact that the [incoming] Israeli government has taken an even more belligerent stand" against the Palestinians and on honouring international law, he said.

Clinton will visit Israel and the West Bank after the conference in Egypt.

Al Jazeera and agencies
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