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Abbas: We are confident there is international will to rebuild Gaza

Oct. 12, 2014 9:54 A.M. (Updated: Oct. 12, 2014 3:26 P.M.)
CAIRO (Ma'an) -- Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said on Sunday that the Palestinians "have confidence that there is an international and regional will to achieve the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip," amid a major fundraising drive for the devastated coastal enclave.

During a televised speech at a donors conference for reconstruction being held in Cairo, Abbas expressed his wish that "there was no need to have this conference," adding: "We won't accept to have this conference every two years as it is no longer acceptable that we witness wars over and over again."

His comments came as top envoys gathered in Cairo Sunday for a conference aimed at raising billions of dollars to rebuild war-battered Gaza, as Washington urged Israel and the Palestinians to revive peace talks.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and 30 of his counterparts joined UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who is seeking a record $1.6 billion (1.3 billion euros) in aid to rebuild Gaza.

The Palestinian government has unveiled a 76-page reconstruction plan, calling for $4 billion in funds, with the lion's share going to build housing for some 100,000 people left homeless by the conflict in July and August.

The Israeli military operation killed nearly 2,200 Palestinians, mostly civilians, while attacks by Gaza militants killed 73 on the Israeli side, mostly soldiers.

Kerry will meet Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas on the sidelines of the conference, State Department officials said.

"You will hear the secretary reaffirm the commitment of the United States to helping the parties achieve a negotiated two-state solution and our willingness to re-engage in the negotiations and help facilitate successful negotiations," a US official said.

"More broadly we are interested in sort of breaking the cycle we have been in the last six years of war and reconstruction there."

Kerry was the architect of a high-profile resumption of negotiations, which collapsed in April and were followed by the 50-day summer Israeli assault, the third offensive on the Palestinian coastal enclave in six years.

Ahead of the Cairo meeting, the United Nations' Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA described Gaza's financial needs as "unprecedented."

But it is unclear how generous the world will be given the intractability of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and other priorities in the region, such as the fight against Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq.

'Considerable donor fatigue'

Some estimates suggest that up to $8 billion will be needed to repair damaged infrastructure and homes, and ensure health care, education and clean drinking water in one of the world's mostly densely populated territories.

This year's conflict displaced more than a quarter of Gaza's population of 1.7 million.

Securing pledges of enough funding is unlikely to be easy. One Western diplomat in Jerusalem warned that there was "considerable donor fatigue."

"We have seen infrastructure projects that we have contributed to which have been destroyed," the diplomat said, adding that skepticism existed even before the latest conflict.

Washington has already committed some $118 million, but has not made any pledges of new funds beyond that. European and Gulf nations, however, are expected to make significant pledges.

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.

The Palestinians have striven to represent a united front in advance of the Cairo donors' conference.

On Thursday, the unity government 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.

However, a second diplomat in Jerusalem said the Gaza cabinet meeting was "not enough to reassure donors."

The European Union, a chief aid supplier to the Palestinians, welcomed "positive developments" but also stressed that a lasting peace was needed.

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

AFP contributed to this report.
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