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Clinton pledging $300 million in aid for Gaza

Hillary Rodham Clinton, on her first foray into Middle East politics as US secretary of state, was to pledge at an international donors conference on Monday about $300 million in humanitarian aid for the war-torn Gaza Strip.

world Updated: Mar 02, 2009 13:38 IST

Hillary Rodham Clinton, on her first foray into Middle East politics as US secretary of state, was to pledge at an international donors conference on Monday about $300 million in humanitarian aid for the war-torn Gaza Strip. She also was to announce about $600 million in assistance to the Palestinian Authority, a US official said on Sunday. State Department spokesman Robert A. Wood told reporters after Clinton arrived on Sunday evening that she would announce the donations at an international pledging conference at this Red Sea resort. The conference is seeking money for Gaza and the Palestinian economy. Clinton also scheduled one-on-one meetings with several of her Mideast counterparts, including Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit and foreign ministers from Morocco, Algerian, Libya and Tunisia. She also was to meet with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. After the daylong conference she was flying to Jerusalem.

Clinton also planned to attend a meeting at Sharm el-Sheik of the so-called Quartet of international mediating nations _ the US, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia _ seeking to forge progress toward peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Obama administration officials had indicated last week that the US was preparing to pledge $900 million in assistance for Gaza, but Wood's description of the plan on Sunday indicated that the only portion going directly to Gaza was $300 million.

Wood said that while all of the money is subject to approval by Congress, the intent is to provide about $200 million to help the Palestinian Authority shore up a budget shortfall and another $400 million to assist Palestinian institutional reforms and economic development. Wood said some of the $400 million might wind up aiding Gaza, but he said that would depend on the Palestinian Authority. The key, Wood said, is that none of the money is to benefit Hamas, the Islamist movement that rules Gaza and does not recognize Israel's right to exist.

Some portion of the $900 million total US pledge had already been budgeted for 2009, Wood said, adding that he could not immediately provide a breakdown.

Getting US humanitarian aid quickly to Gaza is complicated by the US refusal to funnel it through the Hamas, which the US considers a terrorist organization. Wood said the US aid that does not go directly to the Palestinian Authority would be funneled to Gaza through international organizations and agencies. On her trip, Clinton also carried hopes of finding a path toward an Israeli-Palestinian peace and a strengthening of the shaky ceasefire between Hamas and Israel.

After consulting with Israeli officials on Tuesday she was to meet with Palestinian leaders in the West Bank, including Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Donors at the Sharm el-Sheik conference will be asked to fund a $2.8 billion reconstruction and recovery plan put together by Abbas' prime minister, Salam Fayyad, an internationally respected economist. Hamas, which does not recognize Israel's right to exist, was not invited.

Fayyad wants most of the money funneled through his West Bank-based government. He already administers huge sums of foreign aid _ $7.7 billion for 2008-2010 _ and has been sending $120 million to Gaza each month for welfare and salaries of Abbas' former civil servants. Other aid, such as for rebuilding homes, would go directly to the bank accounts of Gazans.

Hamas prepared its own 86-page Gaza reconstruction plan and sent copies to the Arab League. But even if bypassed by the donors, as is likely, Hamas would benefit from any aid that eases pressure on it to help the needy.

Israel's offensive to halt Hamas rocket fire from Gaza ended with a cease-fire on Jan 18.