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Saudi Arabia to donate $1 billion to rebuild Gaza

world Updated: Jan 19, 2009 18:49 IST
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The Saudi king said on Monday his country will donate $1 billion to help rebuild the Gaza Strip after the devastating Israeli offensive and told Israel that an Arab initiative offering peace will not remain on the table forever. King Abdullah's comments at an Arab economic summit in Kuwait City were his first since Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas declared a fragile cease-fire to halt three weeks of violence in Gaza that killed more than 1,250 Palestinians.

"Israel has to understand that the choice between war and peace will not always stay open and that the Arab peace initiative that is on the table today will not stay on the table," said Abdullah during a speech.

The initiative, which was first proposed by Saudi Arabia in 2002 and relaunched in March 2007, offers Israel collective Arab recognition in exchange for Israeli withdrawal from territory it occupied in the 1967 war, the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital and a just solution for the problem of Palestinian refugees.

Israel's response to the initiative has been cool, but its leaders have said it could be used as a basis for discussion. But progress toward finalizing a peace deal has been slow, especially after Hamas seized Gaza from its rival Fatah in June 2007, creating a rift between the two main Palestinian factions. Arab hard-liners discussing Gaza at a gathering in Qatar last week called for putting a hold on the peace initiative, a more radical position than the one outlined by Abdullah. But Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday rejected any talk of abandoning the initiative, saying the only option that Arabs have is to make peace with Israel.

"The Arab peace initiative did not carry the seeds of its demise," said Abbas at the Kuwait summit. "It was our shortcomings."

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak pushed Israel to respond to the Arab initiative, saying "peace in the Middle East is an imperative that cannot be delayed."

But the prospects for Arab-Israeli peace seem dim following Israel's offensive in Gaza to halt Hamas rocket fire into its territory. The death and destruction enraged many Arabs and further strained relations between Israel and the Palestinians. Abdullah criticized the Israelis for using excessive force in Gaza, saying the Jewish holy book called for "an eye for an eye and did not say an eye for the eyes of a whole city." The king said his country's $1 billion donation for Gaza would go to a proposed fund Arabs are setting up to rebuild the seaside territory.

"I know that one drop of Palestinian blood is more valuable than the treasures of the world," said Abdullah.

But it remains to be seen whether Arab expressions of sympathy for the citizens of Gaza translate into actual funds to rebuild the city. Arabs have often criticized Israel for the plight of Palestinians, but pledges of financial support have not always materialized.