Wed, Feb 25, 2009 - Page 6 News List

US may give US$900m to Gaza

CONTROVERSY While Hillary Clinton prepares to attend a donors conference, Ehud Olmert dismissed Israel’s top negotiator in Gaza truce talks for criticizing his policy

AP , JERUSALEM

The US will likely donate more than US$900 million for the reconstruction of Gaza, a US official said on Monday, as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton prepared to attend a donors conference for the war-ravaged territory next week.

Israeli and Palestinian officials said earlier on Monday that Clinton would visit Israel and the West Bank next week for her first trip to the region as the US’ top diplomat.

Clinton said during her Asia trip this month that she would attend an international donors conference in Egypt on March 2 to discuss reconstruction in Gaza.

She provided no other details, but an official in the US said on Monday that the donation by the administration of US President Barack Obama would likely top US$900 million in humanitarian and rebuilding aid to the Palestinian Authority to help Gaza recover from Israel’s offensive against Hamas last month.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the donation had not received final approval, said the exact amount was still to be determined.

The official added that the aid would not go to Hamas.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert dismissed the nation’s top negotiator in Gaza truce talks for publicly criticizing his demand that Palestinian militants hand over a captured Israeli soldier before any deal is clinched, officials said on Monday.

A truce deal has implications beyond cementing the informal Jan. 18 ceasefire that ended Israel’s war on Hamas. Without it, there is little chance of advancing already troubled talks to reconcile feuding Palestinian factions.

Olmert abruptly announced last week that Israel would not reopen Gaza’s long-blockaded borders — the main Israeli concession sought by Hamas — unless Hamas-affiliated militants first freed Sergeant Gilad Schalit, who was seized in a June 2006 cross-border raid.

Amos Gilad, the fired negotiator, opposed linking the truce deal with Schalit and criticized Olmert’s strategy in an interview last week with the Israeli newspaper Maariv. After Gilad refused to apologize, Olmert gave him the boot, aides said on Monday.

“Due to the inappropriate public criticism leveled by Mr. Gilad, he cannot continue as the prime minister’s envoy to any political negotiations,” Olmert’s office said in a statement.

Aides said the talks would not be affected. A longtime adviser to Olmert, Shalom Turgeman, will replace Gilad in the truce talks, along with the head of Israel’s Shin Bet security service, Yuval Diskin, the aides said.

Veteran negotiator Ofer Dekel will handle efforts to free Schalit, the aides said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks.

There was no immediate reaction from Gilad or Egypt.

Hamas shrugged off the development, with spokesman Fawzi Barhoum saying Israel “never intended to reach any agreement or closure on a truce or a prisoner exchange.”

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