International donors have pledged $5.4bn in aid to Gaza at a conference held on Sunday in Cairo to raise funds for the reconstruction of the territory.
The unexpectedly large figure – far beyond the $4bn requested by the Palestinians -was announced by Borge Brende, Norway’s foreign minister, whose country co-hosted the gathering.
“The participants pledged around $5.4bn, half of which will go towards rebuilding Gaza, and the assistance will be distributed in response to the daily needs of the Palestinian people,” Mr Brende said in comments translated into Arabic on Egyptian state television.
Mohammad Mustafa, the Palestinian deputy prime minister, said: “We can now say that work on Gaza will start.” The aid, he said, “indicated that the Palestinian people were still at the top of the world’s priorities.”
Qatar pledged $1bn in aid to the Palestinians, Kuwait, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates each donated $200m.
The US offered a further $212m, and John Kerry, the US secretary of state, urged other countries to step forward. He echoed other world figures in saying a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians was needed to avoid another war in Gaza, and that “everything else will be a band-aid fix, not a long-term solution”.
“Out of this conference must come not just money but a renewed commitment from everybody to work for peace that meets the aspirations of all, for Israelis, for Palestinians, for all people of this region,” Mr Kerry said on Sunday. “And I promise you the full commitment of President Obama, myself and the US to do that.”
The Palestinians were seeking $4bn from the Gulf states, Europe and other countries to clear away rubble, rebuild destroyed buildings and infrastructure, and provide short-term assistance to Gaza’s 1.8m people affected by Israel’s 50-day summer offensive.
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In a speech Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian president, paid tribute to the 2,145 “martyrs” killed in the Israeli military bombardment. The war also killed 73 Israelis as Hamas and other militant groups fired rockets and mortars into Israel.
“We will once again rely on you to rebuild what was destroyed in accordance with the plan prepared by our government,” Mr Abbas told Arab and other foreign delegates and representatives of international organisations in Cairo. “The plan clearly details the immense destruction in the Strip and its needs, which amount to approximately $4bn.”
Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary-general, welcomed an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, brokered by the UN, to allow building materials into Gaza, but urged the two parties to the conflict to “chart a clear course towards a just and final peace”.
“Gaza remains a tinderbox,” he said. “The people need to see results in their daily lives – today, now.”
Ahead of the conference, sponsored by Egypt and Norway, foreign officials said the Palestinians’ request for $4bn would be unlikely to be met in full because of donor countries’ aid commitments elsewhere, Israel’s reluctance to lift its blockade on Gaza and doubts about whether the fragile Palestinian economy could absorb that much money.
Desmond Swayne, UK international development minister, said Britain was committing £20m in “early recovery assistance” for people caught up in the conflict.
We will once again rely on you to rebuild what was destroyed in accordance with the plan prepared by our government. The plan clearly details the immense destruction in the Strip and its needs, which amount to approximately $4bn– Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian president
Like other donors, Britain has voiced concerns about rebuilding Gaza in the absence of a peace agreement between Israel and Hamas, who have fought three wars over the past four years.
“We will come back with more enthusiasm if there is political progress,” Mr Swayne said. “Four schools we rebuilt last time were partly destroyed.”
The UK minister added that there were “glimmers of recognition that Israel is beginning to spot that progress in Gaza is essential to its own security”.
Israel imposed a tight cordon on Gaza’s borders in 2007 after Hamas took power there, and waged two previous military campaigns against the militant Islamist group in 2008-9 and 2012.
It says it needs strict controls to prevent Gaza’s militants from building rockets and tunnels that they use for military operations, but the Palestinians and foreign donors say the controls stunt Gaza’s civilian economy and leave much of its population reliant on emergency food and financial aid.
Since the war, Israel has extended fishing limits off the enclave and agreed a temporary import mechanism for building materials, which will allow the UN and private builders to import them from a pre-vetted list of Palestinian and Israeli suppliers.