Donors pledge €3.5bn in Gaza aid

A TOTAL of $4.481 billion (€3.5bn) was pledged by international donors yesterday to help the Palestinian economy and rebuild Gaza after Israel’s three-week offensive.

However, international donors have insisted their funds bypass the territory’s Hamas rulers.

Ireland’s pledge to support the rebuilding efforts amounts to €2.5 million.

Egyptian foreign minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit told a news conference the new pledges would be paid over the next two years.

The United Nations and aid agencies said rebuilding the coastal enclave was a daunting task so long as border crossings with battered Gaza remained closed.

“The situation at the border crossings is intolerable. Aid workers do not have access. Essential commodities cannot get in,” UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon told donors at a one-day conference on Gaza in the Egyptian resort of Sharm El-Sheikh.

“Our first and indispensable goal, therefore, is open crossings. By the same token, however, it is therefore essential to ensure that illegal weapons do not enter Gaza,” he said.

Israel and Hamas were not invited to the conference, which Egypt had called for after the end of Israel’s military offensive in Gaza in January. The Jewish state says it supports efforts to help Palestinians in the strip, but wants assurances the aid money would not reach Hamas militants. “We definitely don’t want to see the goodwill of the international community exploited by Hamas and serve Hamas extremist purposes,” said Mark Regev, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

The West shuns Hamas because it refuses to recognise Israel, renounce violence and accept peace deals with the Jewish state.

The Islamist Hamas, which is holding talks to form a unity government with the rival Fatah group of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, said the boycott would undercut reconstruction efforts. “To bypass the legitimate Palestinian authorities in the Gaza Strip is a move in the wrong direction, and it deliberately undermines the reconstruction,” Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said in Gaza.

The Palestinian Authority had hoped to raise $2.78bn at the event, including $1.33bn for Gaza.

US secretary of state Hillary Clinton pledged $300m for Gaza reconstruction and $600m to support the authority’s budget shortfalls, economic reforms and security and private sector projects run by the PA.

She was adamant that none of the money, which has to be agreed by the US congress, would go to Hamas. “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.

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