Monday, January 19, 2009

KUWAIT CITY | The Saudi king said Monday that his country would donate $1 billion to help rebuild the Gaza Strip after the devastating Israeli offensive and told Israel that an Arab initiative offering peace will not remain on the table forever.

King Abdullah’s comments at an Arab economic summit in Kuwait City were his first since Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas declared a cease-fire to halt three weeks of violence in Gaza that killed more than 1,250 Palestinians.

“Israel has to understand that the choice between war and peace will not always stay open and that the Arab peace initiative that is on the table today will not stay on the table,” Abdullah said during a speech.

The initiative, which was first proposed by Saudi Arabia in 2002 and relaunched in March 2007, offers Israel collective Arab recognition in exchange for Israeli withdrawal from territory it occupied in the 1967 war, the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital and a just solution for the problem of Palestinian refugees.

Meanwhile, Israeli officials said they hoped to pull all their troops out of the Gaza Strip by the time President-elect Barack Obama is inaugurated Tuesday.

In Gaza’s biggest city, streets brimmed with people and cars Monday as residents began picking up the pieces of the lives they had led before Israel’s three-week air and ground onslaught.

Israeli tanks had been stationed on the rim of Gaza City, and destruction there was heavy. Tank shells turned some buildings into heaps of concrete while the tanks themselves rammed into the sides of others, peeling off hugh pieces. Orange and olive groves were flattened.

Further inside the city, the parliament building and other targets of Israeli warplanes and helicopter gunships were reduced to piles of debris. Destruction in some areas left streets that resembled a moonscape. Elsewhere, damage appeared pinpointed, with isolated homes flattened or demolished.

Donkey carts hauled produce and firewood through streets littered with rubble and broken glass.

Hamas Interior Ministry spokesman Ihab Ghussein said Hamas remains in firm control of internal security, with armed police back on the street and Hamas civil servants surveying the damage.

“We are working despite damage done to communications, to our vehicles and the destruction of our compounds. We are on the ground and our people can feel that,” Mr. Ghussein said.

Israel launched the war on Dec. 27 in an effort to halt years of militant rocket fire on its southern communities and arms smuggling into Gaza. The Israeli government declared a cease-fire that went into effect early Sunday, and hours later, Hamas agreed to silence its guns as well.

Israel made its troop withdrawal plan known at a dinner Sunday with European leaders who came to the region in an effort to consolidate the fragile cease-fire, government officials said. The Tuesday pullout target won’t be met if militants resume fire, officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss troop deployments.

No violations of the truce were reported since Hamas ceased fire Sunday afternoon.

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