CAIRO (AFP) – Global donors pledged hundreds of millions in aid to the devastated Gaza Strip on Sunday despite warnings the battered Palestinian enclave remained a “tinderbox” after its summer war with Israel.
Washington promised US$212 million in new aid at the conference in Cairo, to meet what Secretary of State John Kerry described as an “enormous” challenge in Gaza.
He also urged renewed peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, telling the conference that both sides needed to be helped to make “tough choices” for lasting stability.
“The people of Gaza do need our help, desperately, not tomorrow, not next week, they need it now,” Kerry told the gathering of some 30 global envoys and UN chief Ban Ki-moon.
The Palestinians asked for up to $4 billion in international aid after Gaza was devastated in its 50-day conflict with Israel in July and August.
But there is widespread concern that – after three destructive conflicts in the past six years – any help to Gaza will eventually be lost in the enclave’s cycle of violence.
Ban expressed the fears of many when he told the conference the situation in Gaza remained potentially explosive.
“Gaza remains a tinderbox, the people desperately need to see results in their daily lives,” Ban said.
The Palestinian government unveiled a 76-page reconstruction plan ahead of the conference, with the lion’s share of assistance to build housing.
Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas told the conference the enclave’s need was desperate.
“Gaza has suffered three wars in six years. Entire neighbourhoods have been destroyed,” Abbas said.
Kerry said the new aid brought Washington’s contribution to helping Gaza to more than $400 million over the last year alone.
Other nations joined the effort, with Germany pledging $63 million and Norway about $13 million.
But there were repeated concerns about donor funds going to waste without new efforts at a long-term solution.
“Letting Gaza fester while leaving the parties to their own devices is the surest way for setting ourselves up for another round of war another year or two down the road,” Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende told the conference.
“The missing political framework is urgently needed, and our message to donors is clear: ‘There is no more time to lose’.”
Kerry was due later to meet Abbas to press for further peace efforts.
Kerry’s dogged pursuit of a long-elusive peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians collapsed in acrimony in April after a difficult nine-month process, and there is little prospect of fresh talks any time soon.
Israel and the Hamas militants who dominate Gaza have yet to even translate their temporary August truce into a long-term ceasefire.
In his meeting with Abbas, Kerry is expected to try to dissuade him from seeking further recognition of the Palestinians at the United Nations, including joining the International Criminal Court.
This summer’s conflict killed nearly 2,200 Palestinians, mostly civilians, while attacks by Gaza militants killed 73 on the Israeli side, mostly soldiers.
It also left the densely populated enclave in ruins, displacing more than a quarter of Gaza’s population of 1.7 million and leaving 100,000 people homeless.
The UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA has described Gaza’s financial needs as “unprecedented”.
The United Nations already has plans for $2.1 billion of the funds, with $1.6 billion going to UNRWA and the rest to other agencies including children’s agency UNICEF and development arm UNDP.
One crucial question will be how the aid is delivered, especially given Israel’s harsh blockade of the territory since 2006.
Israel was not invited to the conference but Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said any effort would need his government’s consent.
“Gaza cannot be rebuilt without the cooperation and participation of Israel,” Lieberman said in an interview with news website Ynet, though he added that Israel would be “receptive” to plans for “the reconstruction of civilian infrastructure in Gaza”.
Internal divisions among the Palestinians are also a matter of widespread concern and they strived to present a united front in advance of the conference.
On Thursday, a new 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.