Major offers more Gaza aid

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The Independent Online
John Major yesterday gave the PLO Chairman, Yasser Arafat,

the international recognition he seeks by becoming the first West European head of government to visit Gaza. Promising more aid, the Prime Minister said the closure of the Israeli border to Palestinian workers threatened to undermine the faith of Palestinians in the prospects for peace.

Mr Arafat ensured the ceremonial trimmings of an independent state were laid on for Mr Major, including a review of his lite guard in purple berets, known as Force 17. A Syrian Orthodox Band from Bethlehem played the National Anthem on bagpipes as Mr Major and Mr Arafat emerged from their meeting in the Palestine Hotel on the Gaza waterfront.

Mr Major promised £7m to the Palestinians, bringing to £82m the aid promised over the next three years. He handed over 25 Land Rovers and 25 Ford Transit vans to the police. The head of the Palestinian Police Force, General Nasser Yussef, is to visit Britain this month.

The need for better security forces in Gaza was made clear when a PLO security guard preparing Mr Major's visit to the Shati refugee camp accidently killed a 10-year-old boy. Trying to disperse children playing near a military vehicle, by threatening them with his gun, a member of Force 17 shot dead Mubarak al-Rawwagh. Mr Major's visit to Shati was cancelled.

During talks, Mr Arafat accepted an offer of monitors from the European Union to observe the election which will take place when Israel redeploys.

Various military units were available for Mr Major to inspect. They included a detachment from the Palestinian navy, which has no ships. Along the roadside hung red-white-black-and-green Palestinian flags, alternating with the Union Jack, probably the first time the British flag has been so visible in Gaza since the British withdrawal in 1948.

While Mr Major was touring Gaza his wife, Norma, visited Bethlehem.