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Egypt to host $2bln Gaza reconstruction

world Updated: Jan 30, 2009 16:14 IST

Reuters
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Cairo will host an international conference on March 2 on the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip, estimated at $2 billion after Israel's 22-day offensive, the Egyptian foreign ministry said on Friday.

"The conference will focus on the requirements of rebuilding in Gaza, ways to do so, and the gathering of necessary funds," a foreign ministry statement said, adding that the meeting would be held on the level of foreign ministers.

The meeting, to be held in coordination with the Palestinian Authority, would also deal with urgent humanitarian support.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit urged Europe on Sunday to help with fast aid for Gaza, and said a reconstruction conference would require damage assesments and the support of the European Union, the United Nations and others.

Preliminary estimates put the damage in Gaza after Israel's offensive, which killed 1,300 Palestinians, at nearly $2 billion. Saudi Arabia has said it would donate $1 billion.

Western diplomats have said that Israel intends to exert control over the reconstruction of Gaza and was seeking guarantees that no projects would benefit the Islamist group Hamas.

The Cairo reconstruction talks will come shortly after the Feb. 22 date proposed for the start of an Egyptian-sponsored dialogue between Palestinian groups. The main parties are Hamas, which runs Gaza, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah party, which is dominant in the West Bank.

Egypt came close to organising a Palestinian dialogue in November, but Hamas pulled out a few days before it was due to begin, saying the rival Fatah group has failed to meet its demand to free Hamas prisoners.

Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the European Union see Palestinian reconciliation as one of the keys to progress toward an end to the Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza and toward a possible resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

The two sides agree in principle on the idea of a national unity government for the Palestinian Authority, but they disagree on whether Abbas still has a mandate to govern and on whether armed struggle is still a legitimate strategy for dealing with Israel.