Britain to send £50m to Palestine

Massive aid package includes cash earmarked for fighting extremism in young
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Britain yesterday marked the first anniversary of Israel's military onslaught on Gaza by announcing a £50m aid package for Palestinians, including backing for what it called "a drive against extremism" among the territory's young people.

The move came 24 hours after Israeli forces killed six Palestinians – three of them Gaza civilians – in one of the conflict's deadliest days since the three-week offensive that began with massive aerial bombing of Hamas targets a year ago yesterday.

Yesterday Hamas marked the anniversary of the conflict with protests in the Gaza city of Jebaliya, close to where senior militant leader Nizar Rayyan was killed by an Israeli bomb. But with only 3,000 loyalists in attendance, according to AP, most residents ignored calls to show solidarity with their leadership, many expressing their dissatisfaction with Gaza's economic collapse by staying at home.

The British aid is in part intended to alleviate that crisis. The bulk of the money will go to budget support for the moderate-led Palestinian Authority (PA) in Ramallah. But £7m has been earmarked to help war-stricken Gazans in the winter. Another £5m will pay for 562 teachers in UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) schools in the area.

John Ging, UNRWA's Gaza operation director, has indicated one of the biggest challenges faced by UNRWA schools for 260,000 refugee children in Gaza is tackling extremism fuelled by the winter offensive and Israel's continued siege. Mr Ging, who welcomed the British package, has said an end to the blockade would be a major help in countering radicalism among Gaza's young.

Douglas Alexander, the International Development Secretary, said yesterday: "Better education in Gaza, free from extremist influences, is key to building the region's future." Mr Alexander, one of only a handful of EU ministers to have visited Gaza in the last two years, called on Israel to lift the embargo imposed after the breakdown of the Hamas-Fatah coalition and Hamas's seizure by force of full control of the Strip in June 2007. He said conditions were "dire" with "large numbers" of children lacking shelter, access to water and a balanced diet.

The Israeli military said that three Palestinians-associated with Fatah's military wing-whom it killed in Nablus early on Saturday were responsible for the fatal shooting earlier in the week of a rabbi who lives in the northern West Bank Jewish settlement of Shavei Shomron. The Western-backed PA has protested at the military's incursion which has put strains on its security accords with Israel.

With hopes currently in the balance for an early prisoner exchange for Gilad Shalit, the Israeli sergeant seized by Gaza militants in June 2006, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Cabinet ministers yesterday that one of the three militants killed in Nablus had been freed from an Israeli jail. AP quoted a participant at the meeting as saying Mr Netanyahu had said "We want to free captives, but at the same time, we want to minimise the risk to our civilians."

The three Gazans aged 19 and 20, were killed by fire from an Israeli helicopter as they approached the border barrier with Israel. The army said the three were hit after they ignored warning shots. Relatives said the three had been trying to sneak into Israel to find work.