US Offers $555 Million for Palestinians


The Associated Press

Sunday, December 16, 2007; 6:53 PM

PARIS — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Sunday militant Palestinians, not Israel, are to blame for deteriorating conditions in the sealed-off Gaza Strip, as the United States announced it intends to donate $555 million to the impoverished Palestinians next year.

The U.S. pledge would include $150 million in direct aid to the moderate-led Palestinian government in the West Bank that, despite a history of corruption, is the Bush administration’s hope for new peace talks with Israel launched last month in Annapolis, Md.

There is nothing for the rival Hamas leadership in Gaza, although U.S. officials are quick to say that food and medical aid to the area has increased.

But U.S. pledges of humanitarian relief for Gaza’s 1.5 million people may be hollow unless Israel and Egypt loosen border restrictions that are preventing some medical supplies and all but basic food and no-frills goods from getting in. Relief workers say some aid promised this year was blocked.

Exports from Gaza have stopped, except for a few recent shipments of flowers and strawberries.

“The responsibility for what is happening in Gaza should be put directly on the shoulders of Hamas,” Rice said as she flew to Paris for a gathering of world donors to the Palestinians.

Her remarks suggested that she will not pressure ally Israel to ease off, despite the erosion of Gaza into a beggar state.

“It is the policies of Hamas that have led to its own isolation and by implication the Gaza as well,” Rice said.

Hamas seized control of the seaside territory in June, handing an embarrassing defeat to forces loyal to the U.S.-backed Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas. The U.S., Israel and the European Union regard Hamas as a terror group and refuse to deal with it.

Gaza is dependent on Israel for electricity and water services, a legacy of Israeli occupation of Gaza that ended in 2005. Israel bounds Gaza on two sides and holds almost total control over imports and exports through legitimate border crossings.

The six-month blockade has wiped out tens of thousands of jobs and three-quarters of Gazans now live in poverty. Israel says easing access is dangerous: its border towns are vulnerable to rocket fire from Gaza and the Iranian-backed Hamas continues to smuggle weapons into the territory through tunnels from Egypt.

Israel, with U.S. backing, is betting that it can squeeze Hamas by squeezing Gaza.

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