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Egypt to host donor conference for war-hit Gaza

THE LEVANT – Envoys from dozens of countries will gather Sunday for a conference that aims to raise billions of dollars to rebuild conflict-battered Gaza, despite fears of renewed violence and “donor fatigue”.

The United Nations’ Palestinian refugee agency has described the financial needs as “unprecedented” ahead of the Cairo meeting, which follows the Gaza Strip’s third war in six years.

But it is unclear how generous the world is willing to be given the intractability of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and other priorities in the region such as the fight against jihadists in Syria and Iraq.

About 50 countries will be represented in Cairo for talks that will include UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, US Secretary of State John Kerry, 30 foreign ministers and various international monetary and humanitarian bodies.

The Palestinians have called for more than $4 billion (3.2 billion euros) in aid, and the Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA for $1.6 billion.

Other estimates suggest up to $8 billion will be needed to repair damaged infrastructure and homes, and ensure healthcare, education and clean drinking water.

The bloody 50-day conflict between Israel and Gaza militants left almost 2,200 Palestinians dead along with 73 on the Israeli side.

The war, which ended with a ceasefire on August 26, also left 100,000 Gazans homeless.

More than a quarter of Gaza’s population of 1.7 million was displaced.

Donor fatigue

Even so, a Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, warned there was “considerable donor fatigue.”

“We have seen infrastructure projects that we have contributed to which have been destroyed,” the diplomat said, adding that scepticism had existed even before the recent conflict.

Money raised in Cairo will also go towards getting Gaza’s economy back on its feet.

Gross domestic product is expected to be down 20 percent in the first three quarters of 2014 compared with the same period last year.

Unemployment stood at 45 percent before the war, and 63 percent among young people who make up a large part of the population.

Without immediate action to revive the economy, a return to violence “will remain a clear and present danger,” the World Bank’s Palestinian territories director Steen Lau Jorgensen warned last month.

Palestinian reassurance

The Palestinians sought to present a united front ahead of the meeting to assuage donor concerns that reconstruction materials might fall into the hands of militants.

The unity government on Thursday held its first cabinet meeting in Gaza, months after a reconciliation deal between rivals Fatah, which dominates the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, and Hamas, which is in de facto control of Gaza.

Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Malki was confident the message was enough.

“Our initial predictions are that the conference will be a big success,” he said this week.

Malki also suggested Palestinian moves to seek further recognition at the UN, including joining the International Criminal Court so they could sue Israel for alleged war crimes, would not cause Israel’s allies such as the US to hold back donations.

But a second diplomat, who also did not want to be named, said the Gaza cabinet meeting was “not enough to reassure donors.”

The EU, a chief aid supplier to the Palestinians, has welcomed “positive developments” while stressing that a lasting peace is needed.

“The only durable solution to Gaza is of course a political agreement between Palestinians and Israelis,” John Gatt-Rutter, the EU representative to Palestinian territories, told AFP.

The international consensus is clear — an answer to the intractable Israeli-Palestinian problem must be sought.

“Ultimately, the successful reconstruction of Gaza requires a strong Palestinian political foundation and for the parties to address the underlying issues of the conflict,” said UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

Israel must play its part, aid group Oxfam said, by lifting a blockade on Gaza, in place since 2006, that has made it at times impossible to import building materials.

“The bulk of money pledged at the global donor conference… will languish in bank accounts for decades before it reaches people, unless long-standing Israeli restrictions on imports are lifted,” Oxfam said in a statement.

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