Donors Pledge $5.4 Billion in Gaza Aid, Norway Says

Only half of funds would be 'dedicated' to reconstruction; Egypt's Sissi urges Israel: Now is the time to end the conflict; UN chief to visit Gaza on Tuesday.

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A donor conference in Cairo to raise money to aid the Gaza Strip after this year's war between Hamas and Israel ended with pledges of $5.4 billion, Norway's foreign minister said Sunday.

L-R) Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Norway's Foreign Minister Borge Brende attend a Gaza reconstruction conference in Cairo October 12, 2014. Credit: Reuters

Meanwhile, UN chief Ban Ki-Moon told reporters he will visit Gaza on Tuesday, "to listen directly to the people," AFP reported. Ban will also meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem on Monday.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende, who co-chaired the one-day meeting with Egypt, said pledges of $5.4 billion have been made, but that only $2.7 billion of that money would be "dedicated" to the reconstruction of the coastal strip. Brende did not say what the other half of the funds would be spent on. Other delegates have spoken of budgetary support, boosting economic activity, emergency relief and other projects.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has sought $4 billion for Gaza's recovery.

Qatar pledged $1 billion toward the reconstruction, once again using its vast wealth to reinforce its role as a regional player as Gulf Arab rival the United Arab Emirates promised $200 million. Saudi Arabia pledged $500 million about a month ago.

Delegates representing some 50 nations and 20 regional and international organizations applauded the pledge by Qatar, a tiny but energy-rich Gulf Arab nation at odds with its larger neighbors, like the Emirates.

The Emirates, like regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia, alleges that Qatar uses its massive wealth to undermine regional stability, primarily through meddling in other nations' affairs and aiding militant Islamic groups like Gaza's Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, the Arab world's oldest Islamist group with branches across much of the region.

Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid bin Mohammed al-Attiyah, in announcing his country's pledge, denounced the "international silence" that surrounded Gaza's destruction.

"While the Palestinian people need financial support, they need more political support from the international community," he said. "A just peace is the only real guarantee for not destroying what we are about to rebuild and reconstruct."

At the beginning of the conference, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry pledged $212 million in immediate assistance to the Palestinian people, saying that the residents of the Gaza Strip "need our help, desperately."

Kerry said the new U.S. money, which takes American aid to the Palestinians to more than $400 million this year, would go to security, economic development, food and medicine, shelter and water and sanitation projects.

France said it would contribute $50.5 million to the Palestinians, Germany announced it would contribute $63 million, and the British ambassador to Egypt, John Casson, told Reuters London would provide $32 million for reconstruction.

Meanwhile, Russia's Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, also in Cairo, said that Russia will back the Palestinian draft resolution which sets a timeline for the establishment of a Palestinian state, to be presented to the UN Security Council soon. "We think that the Palestinian case is fair, meaning that people have a right to self-determination, up to establishing their state,” Bogdanov said, according to the Russian news agency RIA Novosti.

In his address to the conference, Kerry called for renewed commitment to peace, said that a lasting deal between Israel, Palestinians and their neighbors could be achieved.

"Out of this conference must come not just money but a renewed commitment from everybody to work for peace that meets the aspirations of all, for Israelis, for Palestinians for all people of this region. And I promise you the full commitment of president Obama, myself and the United States to try to do that," Kerry told the conference.

"Everything else will be a band aid fix, not a long-term solution... Everything else will be the prisoner of impatience and that has brought us to this unacceptable and unstable status quo."

Egyptian leader Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi opened the one-day gathering by telling the foreign envoys gathered in Cairo that the reconstruction of Gaza hinged on a "permanent calm" between Hamas and Israel. He said it also required the exercise of "full authority" by the Palestinian Authority, led by Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas.

Sissi also urged Israel in his address to end the conflict and consider launching new peace efforts based on an Arab initiative first presented in 2002. "I call on the Israeli people and the government: now is the time to end the conflict... so that prosperity prevails, so that we all can have peace and security."

"We should turn this moment into a real starting point to achieve a peace that secures stability and flourishing and renders the dream of coexistence a reality, and this is the vision of the Arab peace initiative," Sissi said.

Abbas also urged Israel to accept the Arab peace initiative, telling the conference in his address: "The most recent Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip, which resulted in vast destruction and uncountable catastrophes is unbearable and cannot pass without consequence. Yet, we will continue to work and coordinate closely with Egypt and all relevant parties to maintain and consolidate the cease-fire."

"The international community should undertake its responsibilities by preventing the aggression, destruction, displacement and suffering of our Palestinian people and supporting our demand in ending Israel's occupation of our land and in realizing the vision of the two-state solution and the Arab peace initiative," Abbas said.

To the people of Gaza, Abbas said: "You are in our hearts. We will work relentlessly to undo the injustice that befell you and end the suffering that you've been experiencing for years. We will heal your wounds that are deeply entrenched in our souls. We will re-build the Gaza Strip, relying on God first, then on the determination of our people. We will also rely on resources and capacities available to us and on the assistance and support of our brothers and friends from around the world, who we trust will not disappoint you in supporting our economy and improving its lot and who will also support you in reclaiming a dignified life in your homeland and in lifting you out of this disastrous situation caused by this unjust war. Your plight has touched and shaken the world's conscience."

Abbas told the conference that $4 billion were needed to rebuild the Gaza Strip, and that the latest war caused what he described as "tragedies that are difficult to be described by words."

"Entire neighborhoods have been reduced to rubble and 90 families are no longer listed in the civil register," he said, pledging transparency in the way the funds will be used.

PA fears conference will fail over border issues

Palestinian Authority sources over the weekend expressed concern regarding the possible failure of the Gaza rehabilitation conference if an agreement could not be reached on the opening of the border crossings in the next few days.

Representatives of donor states in contact with Palestinians over the past few weeks made it clear that they will refuse to offer aid and transfer funds as long as the issue remains unresolved, a senior Palestinian official told Haaretz.

Abbas was scheduled to meet Kerry at the conference on Sunday. According to sources in the Arab world, Kerry plans to ask Abbas to return to the negotiating table with Israel and urge him not to move forward with unilateral steps, such as the Palestinian initiative to the United Nations Security Council to compel Israel to end its occupation within a limited timeframe.

Palestinian sources with knowledge of the matter, however, say that Abbas will refuse any proposal that would not include an Israeli consent for negotiations on the bases of the 1967 lines and the release of the fourth group of longtime pre-Oslo Palestinian prisoners.

The lack of coordination between Fatah and Hamas was visible on Sunday when Palestinian Deputy Prime Minister Mohammad Mustafa, who also serves as the economy minister, said that the Palestinian Authority's Presidential Guard will assume responsibility of the crossings on the coming weekend. But several hours later, Palestinian Interior Ministry undersecretary Kamal Abu Madi, the man in charge of the crossings, said that an agreement has yet to be reached.

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