US working to raise Palestinian aid package
WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States is trying to assemble a massive global aid package for Palestinians after Israel withdraws from the Gaza Strip, according to reports and officials.
The administration of President George W. Bush is working with ex-World Bank President James Wolfensohn to raise up to three billion dollars over three years, the New York Times reported.
Wolfensohn is the Middle East quartet special envoy for the upcoming Israeli disengagement from Gaza.
The money would be for specific projects in Gaza, including a seaport, border crossings and other infrastructure, the newspaper said.
Wolfensohn's designation by the Quartet -- the United States, Russia, the European Union and United Nations, the principal sponsors of the Middle East peace roadmap -- was to look at ways to support the Palestinians and their economic and humanitarian needs, the State Department said Friday.
"As part of that, he is obviously assessing what the international community can do to support the Palestinians," deputy department spokesman Adam Ereli told reporters.
"There are ideas that are being discussed. This is one that is being reported. And I would characterize it as a subject for discussion and that's where we are," Ereli said of the Times report.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice left for Israel Friday, and is expected to discuss the package on her tour of the Middle East and then work with Wolfensohn to present the proposal to Group of Eight foreign ministers next week in London, the Times said.
The daily said Wolfensohn has visited the region in an effort to bridge differences between Israel and the Palestinians on disputes over the construction of crossings and the disposition of Israeli-owned homes, greenhouses and other assets in Gaza.
The Times quoted a senior administration official as saying Wolfensohn had achieved mixed results. Some Israeli and Palestinian officials told the daily his work had been disappointing, and suggested Rice's visit could give the process a jolt of fresh energy.
Diplomats from the United States, Russia, the European Union and United Nations are the principal sponsors of the Mideast peace roadmap.
The blueprint targets the creation of an independent Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel, but has made next to no progress since its launch in June 2003.
Under the terms of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan, which is not an official part of the roadmap, Israel is preparing to dismantle all 21 Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and four others in the northern West Bank in an operation due to start in mid-August.
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