EU increases aid to Palestinians

The European Union announced details of new aid for the Palestinians, raising the 2005 total to €280m today – a day before talks between the four parties that drive the Mideast peace process.

The European Union announced details of new aid for the Palestinians, raising the 2005 total to €280m today – a day before talks between the four parties that drive the Mideast peace process.

If assistance from the 25 EU governments is added, Europe’s total annual aid to the Palestinians amounts to some €500m.

“Only Israel and Palestine can make peace, but Europe is playing its part in the international Quartet to create the environment in which peace can take root,” said EU Foreign Affairs Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner.

Foreign ministers of the so-called Quartet – the United States, Russia, the EU and the United Nations – meet in New York tomorrow to discuss the way forward in the Middle East after Israel’s evacuation of the Gaza Strip.

One crucial issue is the future of the Gaza-Egypt border. Israel closed that border’s Rajah crossing when it withdrew its forces from Gaza last week. The Palestinians want Rajah to reopen quickly, possibly with European monitors.

Before the Quartet meeting, the EU prepared an aid package worth €60m for the Palestinians, including help to upgrade the Gaza airport, develop the seaport and build housing now that Jewish settlers have been removed from the area.

Of that, two-thirds goes to transport, water supply and sanitation projects in the Gaza Strip, some to to boost political and government institutions and an amount for social services in East Jerusalem, EU officials said.

In the EU’s view, the evacuation of Israeli settlers and troops from the Gaza Strip, as well as the dismantling of its 21 settlements last month, has put into greater focus the need to make the area economically and political more viable.

This touches on economic opportunities, the ability of Palestinians to move freely between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank as well as secure borders and entry points.

“Our substantial assistance package will make an important contribution to achieving” these objectives, Ferrer-Waldner said. “Having led the way in support for reform efforts in the Palestinian Authority, we are now helping to lay the foundations for a viable Palestinian economy.”

She said the EU was ready to start construction of a cargo terminal at the Gaza airport, and several EU states have offered help to develop the seaport.

In addition, the EU has also set aside this year €70m if the Palestinian Authority implements political and economic reforms; €10m for projects bringing Palestinian and Israeli non-governmental organisations together; €29m in food aid; €28m in humanitarian aid and €64m for the UN Works and Refugee Agency.

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