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Donors pledge aid to rebuild Gaza, shun Hamas

International donors began making aid pledges expected to exceed US$3 billion to the Palestinian Authority today mainly to rebuild Gaza, while shunning the territory's Hamas rulers.

But the United Nations and aid agencies warned that rebuilding the coastal enclave was a daunting task as long as border crossings between Israel and 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."

Israel and Hamas are not present at the conference which Egypt had called for after the end of Israel's three-week Gaza military offensive 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's purposes," said Mark Regev, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

The Israeli offensive killed 1,300 Palestinians. Thirteen Israelis also died.

The Palestinian Authority of President Mahmoud Abbas, Hamas's rival, had hoped to raise US$2.78 billion at the one-day event, including US$1.33 billion for Gaza. But expected pledges from the United States, the European Commission and Gulf Arab states exceed that amount.


US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in remarks prepared for delivery that urgent action was needed to turn the Gaza crisis "into an opportunity to move us closer to our shared goals".

She said the goal was to achieve a Palestinian state that would be "a responsible partner, is at peace with Israel and its Arab neighbors, and is accountable to its people".

Clinton plans to pledge US$300 million for Gaza reconstruction and US$600 million to support the Palestinian Authority's budget shortfalls, economic reforms and security and private sector projects run by the PA.

The West shuns Hamas because it refuses to recognize Israel, renounce violence and commit to interim peace deals with the Jewish state. US State Department spokesman Robert Wood said the money earmarked to Gaza will be channeled through the United Nations and other organizations, but not Hamas.

"Hamas is not getting any of this money," Wood told reporters late yesterday in Sharm El-Sheikh.

The European Commission said last week it planned to pledge 436 million euros (US$552.6 million). The money would be also earmarked to Gaza and the reforms of the Palestinian Authority.

Gulf Arab states plan to pledge US$1.65 billion in aid over a period of up to five years to rebuild Gaza, and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said Saudi Arabia had offered US$1 billion. They said other Arab countries could join their plan.

But it remains unclear whether Israel would open the border crossings to large quantities of supplies like cement and steel needed to rebuild. Israel refuses the entry of materials it says could be also used by militants to build rockets.

"Money is very important but it is not going to solve the problem unless there is pressure from the international community on Israel to open all (border) crossings with Gaza," said Gasser Abdel-Razek, a spokesman for Oxfam International.

Israel tightened its grip on Gaza's border crossings after Hamas took control in June 2007, and says it will closely manage Gaza reconstruction by requiring project-by-project approval and guarantees that projects will not benefit Hamas.


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