Palestinians seek massive US aid following Gaza withdrawal

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The Independent Online

The Palestinians expect a massive aid package from the United States and other donor counties after Israel withdraws from the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian foreign minister said today.

The Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said he expects to withdraw from Gaza in the coming year, as part of his unilateral "disengagement" from the Palestinians.

"Once this happens, the Americans should be ready with the World Bank and other donors to make massive economic support for the Palestinian Authority," Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath said in an interview with Israel Radio. He did not give a sum.

Sharon travels to Washington next week for talks with U.S. President George W. Bush, hoping to garner American backing for the withdrawal plan. Shaath will hold talks with senior administration officials a week later.

The Palestinians, already heavily dependent on international aid, are hoping for more money to help rebuild a economy shattered in more than three years of fighting with Israel.

Shaath said the funds were needed for "relief, reconstruction, economic activities, labor and job creation, and others."

Shaath was quoted as saying he is aware of American expectations that in return for the aid, the Palestinians crack down on militant groups and arrest those behind the bombing of an U.S. convoy in Gaza in October.

As part of Sharon's plan, Israel would also impose a boundary in the West Bank, at least temporarily. The Palestinians fear Sharon is giving up Gaza in order to tighten his hold on much of the West Bank.

Shaath said he will demand that the U.S. do "nothing that will pre-empt a permanent settlement, neither on borders nor refugees or anything."

The Palestinians seek all of the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem for a future state. The U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan envisions a Palestinian state by next year, but says the borders are subject to negotiations.

Shaath said the Israeli withdrawal must be coordinated with the Palestinian and must be seen as part of the road map. Neither side has met its obligations since the plan was introduced last summer.