A donor conference in Cairo to raise money for Gaza after this year's war between Hamas and Israel ended with pledges of $5.4 billion, half of which will be "dedicated" to the reconstruction of the coastal enclave, Norway's foreign minister said Sunday.
Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende offered the figure at the end of Sunday's one-day conference, far beyond the $4 billion initially sought by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. He did not say what will the other half of the funds would be spent on, but other delegates have spoken of boosting economic activity, emergency relief and other projects needed in the war-ravaged territory.
The message was clear to the international community that the Palestinian brothers are not alone," Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri said.
Qatar pledged $1 billion toward the reconstruction, once again using its vast wealth to reinforce its role as a regional player as Gulf Arab rival the United Arab Emirates promised $200 million.
The pledges followed U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry earlier announcing immediate American assistance of $212 million. The European Union pledged 450 million euros ($568 million), while Turkey, which has been playing a growing role in the Middle East in recent years, said it was donating $200 million.
Delegates representing some 50 nations and 20 regional and international organizations applauded the pledge by Qatar, a tiny but energy-rich Gulf Arab nation at odds with its larger neighbors, like the Emirates.
Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid bin Mohammed al-Attiyah, in announcing his country's pledge, denounced the "international silence" that surrounded Gaza's destruction.
"While the Palestinian people need financial support, they need more political support from the international community," he said. "A just peace is the only real guarantee for not destroying what we are about to rebuild and reconstruct."
Organizers of the Cairo conference hope the pledges will be paid over the period of three years to aid reconstruction in the Gaza Strip, which borders Israel and Egypt. Both countries have blockaded Gaza since Hamas took power there in 2007, causing the territory of 1.8 million people economic hardships and high unemployment.
Donors plan to funnel the aid through Abbas' Palestinian Authority, and bypass Hamas. Abbas and Hamas recently formed a national unity government which held its first Cabinet meeting in Gaza last week.
"The [Palestinian] government will carry out the reconstruction plan with full responsibility and transparency in coordination with the U.N., the donors, international financial institutions, civil society and the private sector," Abbas said.
Leading participants said the reconstruction of Gaza cannot be carried out in isolation from efforts to revive Israeli-Palestinian talks in search of a comprehensive and lasting settlement and.
"We must not lose sight of the root causes of the recent hostilities: A restrictive occupation that has lasted almost half a century, the continued denial of Palestinian rights and the lack of tangible progress in peace negotiations," said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who later announced in a news conference that he planned to visit Gaza on Tuesday.
"I call on all parties to come together to chart a clear course toward a just and final peace," Ban said. "Going back to the status quo is not an option; this is the moment for transformational change."
The latest conflict in Gaza was the most ruinous of the three wars, killing more than 2,000 Palestinians — mostly civilians, the U.N. says. Another 11,000 were wounded, and some 100,000 people remain homeless.
The Associated Press