International donors pledged hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to rebuild the battered Gaza Strip on Sunday and urged Israel and the Palestinians to renew peace efforts.
Gas-rich Qatar led the way at a donors conference in Cairo with a promise of $1 billion in aid to the coastal enclave, devastated by its 50-day summer conflict with Israel.
Washington pledged $212 million and European Union member states 450 million euros, but there was clear concern at financing the reconstruction of Gaza yet again without a peace deal in sight.
The crowded coastal enclave, ruled by the Hamas movement since 2007, remained a “tinderbox,” UN chief Ban Ki-moon warned, announcing plans to visit Gaza on Tuesday.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said Gaza was facing an “enormous” challenge.
“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.
Kerry, who failed to broker a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians earlier this year, urged renewed talks and said the two sides needed to make “tough choices”. The call was echoed by Arab and European envoys.
The Palestinians asked for up to $4 billion in international aid after Gaza suffered heavy damage in its conflict with Israel in July and August.
The United Arab Emirates and Kuwait also pledged $200 million each on Sunday.
There is widespread concern that — after three destructive conflicts in the past six years — any help to Gaza will eventually be lost in more 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.
“This must be the last time. There is clearly some fatigue,” he later told reporters.
The Palestinian government unveiled a 76-page reconstruction plan ahead of the conference, with the lion’s share of assistance to build housing.
“Gaza has suffered three wars in six years. Entire neighbourhoods have been destroyed,” Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas told the conference.
Kerry said the new aid brought Washington’s contribution to helping Gaza to more than $400 million over the last year alone.
Kerry was due later to meet Abbas to press for further peace efforts.
“Make no mistake. What was compelling about a two-state solution a year ago is even more compelling today,” Kerry said.
Kerry’s dogged pursuit of an agreement to establish a Palestinian state alongside Israel collapsed in acrimony in April after a difficult nine-month process, and there is little prospect of fresh talks any time soon.
Israel and Hamas militants have yet to even translate their open-ended August ceasefire into a long-term truce.
In his meeting with Abbas, Kerry is expected to try to dissuade him from seeking further recognition of the Palestinians at the United Nations, a move vehemently opposed by Israel.
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 organisation UNICEF and development arm UNDP.
One crucial question will be how the aid is delivered, especially given Israel’s strict 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. SAPA