Gaza donor summit pledges billions, urges open crossings (Lead)

March 2nd, 2009 - 8:16 pm ICT by IANS  

Sharm al-Sheikh (Egypt), March 2 (DPA) World leaders gathered for a donors conference in this Egyptian resort city Monday urged swift action to rebuild the battered Gaza Strip, and pledged billions of dollars in reconstruction aid.
By midday Monday, it appeared that the international donors would meet the request of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to supply the Gaza Strip with some $2.8 billion in aid.

Speaking at the conference, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal confirmed his country’s January pledge of one billion dollars to meet that goal.

In addition to the Saudi pledge, a US contribution of $900 million plus promises from other nations including Kuwait, Germany, Brazil and Lebanon brought the total by midday to just over $2.45 billion.

In his opening address, Egyptian President Mubarak warned that “the situation in the Middle East is in greater danger of exploding than any other time before”.

Mubarak called on the new US administration to “realise the movement of the Quartet toward peace,” and on the “new Israeli government that will be formed to respond positively to the Arab peace initiative”.

The Egyptian president stressed the importance of creating a mechanism for receiving and disbursing aid “that has the confidence of international donors,” a point echoed by Hillary Clinton in her first visit to the region as US secretary of state.

Clinton said that the US would institute safeguards to ensure that the $900 million of US aid to the Palestinians would be used “only by whom and for what it was intended”.

She urged Hamas to “break the cycle of rejection and resistance,” saying this was “the only way to turn this crisis into an opportunity” to create an independent Palestinian state “at peace with its neighbours and… accountable to its people”.

Leaders of Hamas, which has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007, were not present at Monday’s conference.

Clinton said the US was committed to engage in efforts to establish such a peace agreement “with vigour and intensity”.

Meanwhile world leaders said that opening the Gaza Strip’s borders, a key Palestinian demand, would be an important first step in reconstructing the Gaza Strip and establishing a lasting peace agreement.

“The situation at the border crossings is intolerable,” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told the delegates Monday. “Aid workers do not have access. Essential commodities cannot get in… there is no concrete or steel to build homes or shelters.”

“The people of Gaza cannot and should not wait any longer,” Ban said. “I call for action now.”

French President Nicolas Sarkozy also stressed the importance of opening Gaza’s borders and said: “Gaza must no longer be an open-air prison.”

“But the opening of this territory must be paired with the closure of the tunnels” used to smuggle weapons and commodities from Egypt into the Gaza Strip, he said.

“We all know the parameters of a peace,” Sarkozy said. “What are we waiting for? A government that we like? The longer we wait, the fewer wise men there will be.”

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi likewise stressed the urgency of striking a peace agreement, saying the conflict in the Middle East was “not a regional problem, but a global problem”.

He called on Palestinian factions and Israeli political parties to come together to form governments “willing to make compromises for the sake of peace.”

More than 1,300 Palestinians were killed in Israel’s 22-day offensive in late December and January, and thousands of homes and government buildings were demolished.

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