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At Gaza donor conference, Clinton vows to pursue Middle East peace

The US pledged $900 million, but said the money would not go to Hamas.

By Liam StackCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / March 3, 2009

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (l.) and US Special Envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell (2nd l.), met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak (r.) on Monday. At a donor's conference on Monday, Ms. Clinton pledged about $300 million in humanitarian aid for Gaza Strip recovery efforts.

Amr Nabil/AP



Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered $900 million for Gazans and made a commitment to move toward a Palestinian state at a meeting of donor nations Monday in Egypt.

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"By providing humanitarian aid to Gaza we also aim to foster conditions in which a Palestinian state can be fully realized, a state that is a responsible partner, is at peace with Israel and its Arab neighbors and is accountable to its people," said Mrs. Clinton at the one-day summit in Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt.

The meeting was to raise money for the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip, which was devastated by January's 22-day conflict between Israel and the Islamic militant group Hamas.

The Palestinian Authority had hoped to raise $2.78 billion, but that sum had been surpassed by pledges made before the summit by the United States, Britain, the European Union, and the six member states of the Arab Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

But as foreign ministers took out their checkbooks, the prospect of rebuilding Gaza was complicated by ongoing negotiations in Cairo over the political framework of reconstruction.

Since January, Egypt has mediated talks between Israel and Hamas over a formal truce. In exchange for an end to Hamas rocket fire into Israel, as well as the release of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, Israel says it will fully open Gaza's borders. Egypt is expected to follow suit.

Last week, Hamas and Fatah announced the beginning of talks to form a unity government by the end of March. It is the first such talks between the two sides since the collapse of the last Palestinian unity government in the spring of 2007.

Donors have made it clear that the Fatah-run Palestinian Authority will be the sole beneficiary of funds raised at Monday's meeting, even though it has not had a presence in Gaza since Hamas expelled it in June 2007.

They say none of the money pledged in Sharm el-Sheik will go to Hamas.

"Hamas is not getting any of this money," State Department spokesman Robert Wood told reporters at the resort, where Clinton arrived for her first foreign visit to the Middle East.

"We have to shore up the Palestinian Authority," he said.

The United States has pledged $900 million to the Palestinian Authority (PA), but only $300 million of that will be devoted to providing humanitarian relief to Gaza. None of those funds are expected to go toward construction projects.

Mr. Wood told reporters that $200 million of that sum would go to covering PA budget shortfalls, and the rest would go to supporting PA-led private sector projects and funding security forces.

The Gulf Cooperation Council, a six-member trade bloc made up of Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, pledged the largest single amount, with a five-year commitment to provide $1.65 billion in aid to the beleaguered Palestinian coastal enclave.