Kerry calls for new peace talks, pledges $212m in Gaza aid

Kerry calls for new peace talks, pledges $212m in Gaza aid

Ceasefire is not peace, top US diplomat says; UN chief says Strip ‘remains a tinderbox’; Abbas vows transparency in use of funds

US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during the opening session of the Gaza donor conference in Cairo on October 12, 2014, aimed at helping rebuild the Gaza Strip. (photo credit: AFP/Carolyn Kaster/Pool)
US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during the opening session of the Gaza donor conference in Cairo on October 12, 2014, aimed at helping rebuild the Gaza Strip. (photo credit: AFP/Carolyn Kaster/Pool)

The United States will immediately contribute $212 million to the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip, Secretary of State John Kerry told envoys at a donor conference in Cairo Sunday.

Speaking to the meeting of leaders and envoys of countries pledging money to rehabilitate the Strip, Kerry said people in Gaza “need our help desperately — not tomorrow, not next week, but they need it now.”

Kerry also called for a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, saying both sides had to be helped to make “tough choices” for lasting stability.

“Ceasefire is not peace. We got to get back to the table and help people make tough choices, real choices … choices about more than just a ceasefire,” he said.

The Palestinian government is seeking $4 billion to rebuild Gaza after the summer’s war left some 100,000 people homeless.

While Kerry said he was happy to announce the donation, he also warned that “as long as there is a possibility that Hamas can fire rockets on Israeli civilians at any time, the people of Gaza will remain at risk of future conflict.”

UN chief Ban Ki-moon also warned that another conflict could erupt.

“Gaza remains a tinderbox, the people desperately need to see results in their daily lives,” Ban said.

Kicking off the conference earlier Sunday, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi also urged Israel to reach a peace deal with the Palestinians and PA President Mahmoud Abbas said government institutions in Gaza were destroyed, as an international donor conference began in Cairo Sunday to raise funds to rebuild the Strip.

“I call on the Israeli people and the government: now is the time to end the conflict,” Sissi said in his opening remarks.

In his address, Sissi said the reconstruction of Gaza hinged on a “permanent calm” between Hamas and Israel. He said it also required the exercise of “full authority” in the Strip by the Palestinian Authority, led by Western-backed Abbas. Egypt brokered a ceasefire in late August that ended 50 days of fighting between Israel and Hamas.

The Israeli military operation killed nearly 2,200 Palestinians, Gaza health officials say, while attacks by Gaza militants killed 72 on the Israeli side, mostly soldiers. Israel maintains nearly a thousand of those killed in Gaza were fighters.

Abbas told the global envoys in attendance that the latest conflict had destroyed government institutions in Gaza.

“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, “in full coordination with UN agencies, donor countries and international financial institutions.”

“Gaza has suffered three wars in six years,” Abbas said. “There is a tangible need for funds to bring back government institutions, because they have all been destroyed.”

Abbas also called for support for a United Nations Security Council resolution setting a timetable for Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian territories, a move expected to fail.

Joining the Egyptian and Palestinian leaders at the conference are Kerry and top envoys from 30 countries.

Absent, though, is Israel, after Cairo reportedly asked Jerusalem to stay away to keep donor countries from objecting, Israeli daily Haaretz reported Sunday.

Kerry will meet Abbas on the sidelines of the conference, State Department officials said, in a bid to push Ramallah back to the negotiating table. The US has already urged Israel and the Palestinians to resume peace talks.

Kerry was the architect of a high-profile resumption of negotiations, which collapsed in April and were followed by the 50-day summer war, the third conflict in the Palestinian coastal enclave in six years.

The Palestinian government earlier unveiled a 76-page reconstruction plan, calling for $4 billion in funds, with the lion’s share going to build housing for some 100,000 people left homeless by the conflict in July and August.

This year’s conflict displaced more than a quarter of Gaza’s population of 1.7 million. Israel says residential neighborhoods were targeted due to the practice of Gazan fighters of embedding rocket launchers among civilian homes and institutions, though the army also targeted homes of Hamas’s leadership.

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