Aid for the Palestinians Money for Gaza, but Will it be Enough?
A day after the international community coughed up nearly $1 billion in aid for Lebanon, donors offered $500 million for the Palestinians. But they'll need more than just money. Chaos reigns in the Authority.
A portrait in a damaged Palestinian home in Gaza City. Israeli troops pulled out on Thursday.
That was more than the $330 million organizers had hoped to raise for the Gaza Strip to combat a growing humanitarian crisis there. Conditions -- already poor after aid money to the Palestinian Authority was drastically cut following the victory of Hamas in January parliamentary elections -- worsened as a result of an Israeli offensive triggered by the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier on June 25.
"Given the constraints imposed on us, the situation continues to deteriorate," said Mohammad Mustafa, a top advisor to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. He urged Israel to open the borders to the Gaza Strip and to allow easier access for aid shipments to the West Bank.
Sweden opened the conference with a pledge of $5 million to go with another $9 million pledged earlier. The European Union came through with a pledge of $64 million and UN humanitarian chief Jan Egeland said that a number of other "impressive new pledges" had come in response to the UN's emergency appeal for aid to the Palestinians.
"I have travelled to the West Bank for 22 years," Egeland told the conference, attended by more than 50 countries and organizations. "But I never experienced so much disillusionment, frustration, hatred and lack of hope as during my last visit" in July.
The international community on Thursday came up with $940 million in aid pledges for Lebanon -- nearly twice the $500 million conference organizers had set as a goal. Qatar came through as one of the most generous donors with a pledge of $300 million. The United States wasn't far behind with $175 million -- part of a total aid package of $240 million. The EU promised $54 million.
Critics, though, say they doubt the Lebanese government has the wherewithal to competently distribute that aid. "I dont think this will help Lebanon in the long term," Middle East expert Magnus Norell of the Swedish Defense Research Agency told the Associated Press. "There is only one actor in southern Lebanon that can handle aid, and that's Hezbollah." Hezbollah has already begun distributing millions in aid money in southern Lebanon. The money likely comes from Iran.
The situation has gotten especially bad in Gaza lately as civil servants have gone on strike yet again to try and force the Hamas-led government to pay salaries that are months overdue. Garbage is piling up and rancid smoke from burning trash is hanging over Gaza City on Friday as garbage collectors strike. Unions linked to President Abbas's Fatah Party have threatened a broader strike soon -- threats that observers say might be part of a pressure tactic to get Hamas to agree to the formation of a national unity government together with Fatah. Since Hamas took power in March, some 165,000 government employees haven't been paid regularly.
In addition to the strikes, the threat of renewed Israeli attacks continues to hang over Gaza. Palestinian rockets continue to fall on Israeli territory in defiance of Abbas's plea that the attacks be stopped. Five rockets sailed across the border on Thursday with another three reported on Friday. No injuries were reported. Israeli troops withdrew from Gaza City on Thursday at the end of a five-day operation that, according to a Palestinian count, left 20 dead and heavily damaged parts of the city and a number of streets.
The recent violence in Gaza was triggered by the kidnapping of Cpl. Gilad Shalit by Hamas-linked militants in late June. Two more Israeli soldiers were captured by a Hezbollah raid on July 12, triggering the Israeli offensive in Lebanon. On Thursday night in Tel Aviv, tens of thousands of Israelis took to the streets in a rally demanding the release of the three soldiers.