US to donate $900 million in aid to Gaza
State Department official says money for reconstruction of Strip will be transferred via UN; money meant to help strengthen Palestinian Authority, will not go to Hamas, official says
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton plans to announce a $900 million pledge of US aid for Gaza and the Palestinian Authority at a donors' meeting in Egypt next week, a State Department official said on Monday.
The March 2 donors conference in Egypt's Sharm el-Sheikh resort aims to raise humanitarian and rebuilding funds for Gaza after Israel's offensive at the end of last year.
The money, which needs US congressional approval, will be distributed through UN and other bodies and not via Hamas, which rules Gaza, said one official.
"This money is for Gaza and to help strengthen the Palestinian Authority. It is not going to go to Hamas," said the official, who asked not to be named.
Preliminary estimates put the damage in Hamas-run Gaza after Israel's offensive at nearly $2 billion.
Clinton's bid to get "substantial" funds could face an uphill battle in Congress where requests for Gaza will likely meet resistance as Hamas continues to rule there and the US focus is on its own souring economy.
In December, the former Bush administration said it would give $85 million to the UN agency giving aid to Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
The United States wants the Palestinian Authority, under the leadership of President Mahmoud Abbas, to play a central role in the reconstruction effort in Gaza, hoping this will increase its influence in the Hamas stronghold. Washington is also putting pressure on other donors to bolster the Palestinian Authority.
"We call on donor countries to focus their pledges to meet the Palestinian Authority's priorities, including budget support, and on projects that can be funded through the Palestinian Authority and other existing, trusted mechanisms," said the State Department official.
The quartet of Middle East mediators are expected to meet on the sidelines of the Egyptian conference where they will work on strategy on Gaza, US officials said.
"We will also emphasize the importance of laying the conditions for successful negotiations toward the two-state solution and an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict," the State Department official said of discussions in Sharm el-Sheikh.
Egypt will be Clinton's first stop on a trip expected to include Israel and the West Bank – a public demonstration of the Obama administration's promise to make Arab-Israeli peacemaking a foreign policy priority.