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Oct 12, 2014 4:25 AM

Gaza reconstruction conference opens in Cairo

The Associated Press

CAIRO (AP) An international donors' conference to help Gaza rebuild after the devastating, 50-day Israel-Hamas war this summer opened in Cairo on Sunday with participants expected to pledge hundreds of millions of dollars.

Egyptian leader Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi kicked off the one-day gathering that has brought together envoys including U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and European Union negotiator Catherine Ashton.

Egypt, which negotiated a cease-fire that ended the fighting on Aug. 27, has had tense relations with Gaza's Hamas rulers since the Egyptian military ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in July last year and threw its weight behind the administration of Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank. Donors plan to funnel the aid through the Palestinian Authority that Abbas leads, and bypass Hamas.

Abbas told the conference that $4 billion were needed to rebuild Gaza, and that the latest war caused what he described as "tragedies that are difficult to be described by words."

"Entire neighborhoods have been reduced to rubble and 90 families are no longer listed in the civil register," he said, pledging transparency in the way the funds will be used.

Abbas and the militant Hamas group, which has ruled Gaza since 2007, recently formed a reconciliation government which held its first Cabinet meeting in Gaza last week. But a blockade of Gaza enforced by both Egypt and Israel remains in force.

Addressing the meeting, el-Sissi suggested that Hamas would have no leading role in the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip, a sliver of coastal territory on the Mediterranean bordered by Israel and Egypt.

The reconstruction effort, he said, hinged on a "permanent calm" between Hamas and Israel and required the exercise of "full authority" by the Palestinian Authority led by Abbas.

The latest conflict in Gaza was the most ruinous of three wars between Hamas and Israel since 2008, leaving more than 2,000 Palestinians, mostly civilians killed. Another 11,000 were wounded, and some 100,000 people remain homeless.

Both Abbas and el-Sissi said an Arab peace plan adopted in 2002 provided a basis for settling the Palestinian-Israel conflict. The plan envisages Israel's withdrawal from Arab territories it occupied in the 1967 Middle East war in return for normalized relations with all Arab nations.


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