US pledges to aid suffering Palestinians

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The Independent Online
The United States has proposed a plan at the anti-terrorism conference in Washington to pump money and jobs into the West Bank and Gaza in order to aid Palestinians who are suffering from the Israeli economic blockade.

Warren Christopher, the US Secretary of State, told envoys from the 27 states attending the the conference that "the merchants of terror" must be defeated, but "we must find ways to support the Palestinian people as they, too, suffer the consequences of the Hamas bombings."

Saeb Erekat, a senior Palestinian official, called for $100m (pounds 65m) in emergency funds to help Palestinians avoid starvation and head off a "major explosion" in the West Bank and Gaza. "The peace process has come to a halt, and war is being waged against [Yasser] Arafat and the Palestinian people," he said.

Israel has sealed off the 2.3 million Palestinians in the occupied territories as a security measure and as a collective punishment, after four suicide bombs killed 62 people in Israel. A ban on all Palestinians working in Israel has crippled the economy of the West Bank and Gaza.

The plan, details of which have still to be spelled out, is the result of pressure on the US from Arab and European states and the Palestinians.

It marks a step away from Washington's previous insistence on keeping the meeting focused primarily on counter-measures to terrorism. A meeting of donor countries is to be called in the next few days.

After talking by phone with Shimon Peres, the Israeli Prime Minister, and Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, Mr Christopher said: "We have agreed on the development of an emergency plan designed to improve the economic situation in Gaza and the West Bank."

The materials necessary for the jobs programme will be allowed into Palestinian areas. Convoys, including those containing citrus exports from Gaza, transporting goods to and from Israeli ports and Jordanian crossing points, would be increased.

More trucks will be allowed to bring imports from Egypt into the West Bank and Gaza.

Differences have emerged between the US and its European allies over the follow-up to the "summit of peace-makers" in Egypt two weeks ago.

France has reportedly been seeking support from Germany, Italy and Britain to spearhead a European initiative, arguing that the follow-up conference ought to consider the causes of terrorism, and not only the effects. France believes repressive policies will not help the peace process in the long run.

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