- The Washington Times - Friday, September 1, 2006

STOCKHOLM — A group of donor countries and international organizations yesterday pledged to send nearly $500 million in aid to the Palestinians, saying the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip turned critical while the world focused on halting a monthlong war in Lebanon.

Only 10 percent of the donations pledged at an aid conference in Stockholm were to be channeled through the United Nations, raising concerns that sizable sums may go straight to the Hamas-led Palestinian government shunned by the West since it took power in March.

Carin Jamtin, Sweden’s aid minister and the host of the conference, called the donations “a fantastic result” but expressed disappointment that so few pledges were made to the U.N. appeal.

Only $55 million was given toward the U.N. emergency appeal that had been the focus of the conference, while Egypt and some other countries made sizable donations that organizers said would be given directly to the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority.

The United States, the European Union and other world donors cut off hundreds of millions of dollars in direct aid and cash transfers to the government after Hamas took office, leaving the Palestinian Authority unable to pay salaries to most of the 165,000 public workers.

Civil servants demanding wages largely unpaid since March plan to stop work from today, which could paralyze government operations.

Conditions in Gaza worsened after Israel launched a large-scale military offensive in the tiny coastal strip at the end of June in response to a raid by Hamas-allied militants who tunneled under the Gaza-Israel border, attacked an army post and captured an Israeli soldier.

Hamas, which has killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide bombings and other attacks, is considered a terrorist group by the United States, the European Union and Israel.

Mohammad Mustafa, a top adviser to moderate Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, said it did not matter how the money was distributed, “as long as it is assistance that gets to the people.”

No Hamas representative attended the conference.

The biggest donation — $250 million — came from Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, the European Union said it has begun paying “social allowances” to 625,000 Palestinians left unpaid because of the government’s financial crisis.

Foreign ministers from the 25 EU states meeting at a 17th century fortress in Lappeenranta, Finland, yesterday called for a revival of the Middle East peace process, and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said the bloc would be willing to talk to a Palestinian unity government including Hamas members, Reuters news agency reported.

Several ministers said there was a need for the EU to persuade the United States to revive the 2003 “road map” to peace.

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