Arabs pledge $700 million to Palestinians
Arab states had pledged nearly $700 million to support the Palestinian resistance against Israeli occupation by the end of a meeting of Arab finance ministers in Cairo Thursday, participating countries said. An Arab summit on October 22 decided to set up two funds worth one billion dollars to help the Palestinians cope with the economic repercussions of eight weeks of Israeli-Palestinians clashes.
Officials said so far Saudi Arabia has offered $250 million, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates $150 million each, Qatar $50 million, Algeria and Egypt $30 million, Oman and Yemen $10 million each, Syria seven million, Jordan two million and Sudan one million. All amounts, except those pledged by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, were promised at the gathering of finance ministers to discuss ways to implement the Arab summit's decision.
Palestinian finance minister Zohdi al-Nashashibi said the Palestinians "urgently need" an estimated $245 million to be able to survive the "serious economic crisis created by Israel's siege on the Palestinian territories." Of that amount, $60 million were needed to pay outstanding wages, $60 million to help those who have lost their jobs, $65 million to help create new job opportunities for them, $40 million for urgent health and education spending and $20 million to families whose houses have been destroyed in Israeli raids.
Palestinian international cooperation minister Nabil Shaath complained that a month after the Arab summit only $30 million had reached the Palestinian territories from other Arab countries. Shaath demanded a mechanism managing the funds to be based inside the Palestinian territories to prevent Israel from controlling the money and its use.
"We'd like our Arab donors to have in Palestine an organization that supervises the spending, and we want an international auditing agency to audit every penny," he said. "But we'd like at the same time a mechanism that can dispense as quickly as possible with money," especially the money for families of victims, he said.
Earlier Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat asked the finance ministers to dispatch the money promised to the funds quickly. "I'm asking my brothers to give aid urgently, even if some of you would consider it loan, because we are in the worst possible situation," Arafat said.
Only Iraq, of the 22 Arab League members, was boycotting the meeting, arguing that the Arab world should show its support for the Palestinians with military force against Israel rather than money, League officials said.
Egyptian Finance Minister Medhat Hassanein said the ministers had decided the funds should be managed by the Islamic Development Bank supervised by a council of ministers and an executive designated by contributing countries. The deadline for paying the contributions had been set at December 31, he said.
The summit set up an $800 million fund aimed at "protecting the Arab and Islamic identity of Jerusalem" and one for $200 million for the families of Palestinians killed by Israeli troops in the past eight weeks of spiraling violence.
The first of the two Saudi-proposed funds, named the "Al-Aqsa Fund" after the mosque in east Jerusalem where the clashes began eight weeks ago, will also help the Palestinians to "end their economic dependence on Israel."
The second fund was named the "Jerusalem Intifada Fund" to be spent on "the families of martyrs of the intifada and give them the means to raise and educate their children."
Israel has slapped an economic blockade on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, preventing residents from working an Israel, depriving the Gaza Strip of fuel and freezing tax refunds. — (AFP, Cairo)
© Agence France Presse 2000
© 2000 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)