Hopes for Palestinian unity. Blair in Beit Hanoun
Photo: AFP
Blair In Sderot
Photo: Reuters
Blair in Gaza: A lot of money will be coming in
Day before international donor conference in Egypt, Quartet's Mideast envoy says aid aimed at rebuilding Strip 'will not have a lasting impact unless there is a political solution.' Israeli official: No one wants to see Hamas strengthened

Tony Blair paid his first visit to the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip on Sunday as envoy of international peace brokers and said reconstruction aid after Israel's offensive would not have a lasting effect without peace.


Blair, a former British prime minister, also toured the Israeli border town of Sderot, a frequent target of rocket attacks by Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.


He did not meet Hamas officials in the coastal enclave, a day before an international donor conference in Egypt to raise funds for rebuilding homes and infrastructure damaged or destroyed in the 22-day offensive Israel launched in December.


"There will be money - that will be coming, and there will be money, probably a significant amount of it, pledged at the conference - but this money will not have a lasting impact unless there is a political solution," Blair told reporters.


Blair called for a "viable, durable ceasefire", followed by a lifting of an Israeli-led blockade on the Gaza Strip that has kept out vitally needed material such as cement and steel which Israel said could be used by militants to rebuild and rearm.


He said he hoped for Palestinian unity that could ease the flow of aid to the Gaza Strip, whose Hamas rulers are shunned by the West over their refusal to recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept existing interim peace deals.


Blair was appointed Middle East envoy by the "Quartet" of brokers - the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia - two years ago with a mandate to try to strengthen the Palestinian economy and promote peace.


'Reconstruction cannot happen without resistance'

He has refrained from meeting Hamas officials, in line with the West's policy towards the group, which won a Palestinian election in 2006 and violently wrested control of the Gaza Strip from President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah faction in 2007.


The Palestinian Authority has said it hopes to raise $2.78 billion at the donor conference, $1.33 billion of it for the Gaza Strip.


Egypt, which like Israel borders Gaza, has been trying to mediate a Palestinian reconciliation deal and consolidate a Jan. 18 Gaza truce.


While welcoming initiatives to repair the ravages of the three-week assault - which Israel said aimed to suppress Palestinian cross-border rocket fire --Hamas has bristled at signs it was again being marginalized by foreign powers.


Youssef Rizqa, an adviser to the Hamas administration in Gaza, said the Palestinian Authority was the "wrong address" for donor funds as it "does not represent the Palestinian people".


"Reconstruction cannot happen without the government in Gaza and the resistance, which fought the war," he said in a statement.


The World Bank has weighed in on Gaza, pledging to help channel funds both to Palestinian Authority institutions and several independent groups.


Juan Jose Daboub, World Bank managing director, said reconstruction would be predicated on the free flow of material.


"That is the greater obstacle we all need to work towards eliminating," he said during a visit to Gaza.


Palestinians have been circumventing the embargo by using smuggling tunnels from Gaza, though not without risk. Israel has regularly bombed the frontier and medical workers said on Sunday that four tunnellers had drowned in a winter flood.


"Like the international community, we want to make sure that the help will be delivered to the people of Gaza, not to the Hamas regime. No one wants to see Hamas strengthened," Mark Regev, an Israeli government spokesman, said in Jerusalem.


פרסום ראשון: 03.01.09, 16:27
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