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Egypt Hosting Donors Conference For Gaza Reconstruction


U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (right), EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana (left), and U.S. Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell prior to the conference on Gaza in Sharm el-Sheikh

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (right), EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana (left), and U.S. Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell prior to the conference on Gaza in Sharm el-Sheikh

(RFE/RL) -- Egypt is hosting an international donors' conference to help rebuild Gaza, the Palestinian territory devastated by Israel's military assault late last year.

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is bringing to the conference a plan costing $1.3 billion to rebuild Gazans' homes, hospitals, and schools. His Palestinian Authority is also seeking another $1.5 billion for its general finances.

I come with a very clear message that as a British government, we want to see full and unfettered access both for aid and for aid workers here in Gaza. The scale of human suffering remains far too high.
Raising the money should be no trouble, as leading donor countries have already indicated they will pledge more than that at the conference in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is bringing a promise of $900 million, the European Union $550 million, and the six states of the Gulf Cooperation Council some $1.65 billion -- and they are only the biggest of the 87 international donors attending the conference.

The real problem will be getting the money spent meaningfully on the ground.

Both Egypt and Israel, wary of weapons smuggling and an exodus of Palestinians, are keeping tight control over their borders with Gaza. That makes it impossible to get the building materials needed for reconstruction in Gaza.

British Secretary of State for International Development Douglas Alexander, speaking on March 1 to reporters in Gaza, said he was appalled by the scale of human suffering there -- and that the borders must be opened.

"I come with a very clear message that as a British government, we want to see full and unfettered access both for aid and for aid workers here in Gaza," Alexander said. "The scale of human suffering remains far too high."

Israel says it supports the effort to rebuild Gaza, but it will not allow any of the assistance to benefit the Gaza militants who are rocketing southern Israel.

Bypassing Hamas

The supply problem is only one of the obstacles to rebuilding Gaza. Another is that none of the donors wants money to fall into the hands of the Hamas militants who control Gaza. Hamas is labeled a terrorist organization by the EU and United States, and has not been invited to the conference.

But some analysts say that streaming resources through the Palestinian Authority on the West Bank is not necessarily a solution. Hamas and the Palestinian Authority are bitter rivals, and Hamas guards its control of Gaza jealously.

The United States has already said it will bypass Hamas by channeling its assistance through the United Nations and other organizations. World Bank Managing Director Jose Daboub, speaking on March 1 to reporters in Gaza, offered a partial solution to the dilemma.

"Part of my visit is also to talk to the NGOs and talk, of course, to representatives from the different institutions to make sure that once the resources arrive, they are also channeled in the best way possible," Daboub said.

"The World Bank manages instruments and vehicles -- one particular one, a trust fund that has been used in the past -- through which we have allocated some $280 million in the last 12 months," he added. "That's one option that is available for the international community to channel their resources."

Among those attending the conference are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana. Together with Clinton, they make up the so-called Middle East peace "Quartet."
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