Monday, November 13, 2006

Arabs vow to break aid blockade on Palestinians

CAIRO (AFP) — Arab foreign ministers gathered in Cairo vowed Sunday to ignore the aid freeze imposed on the Palestinian Authority and start stepping up payments.

"We are determined to find means of getting aid directly to the Palestinian people," Qatari Foreign Minister Hamad Ben Jassem Ben Jabr Al Thani told reporters.

Arab banks are to transfer the funds without abiding by any restrictions imposed on the banks. Arab banks must transfer the funds," Arab League Secretary General Amr Musa simply said.

Zahar announced that Kuwait had just transferred $30 million to the authority but did not specify how.

The Palestinian foreign minister said earlier Sunday that the costs of rebuilding the north Gaza town of Beit Hanoun after deadly Israeli shelling amounts to $50 million.

Zahar had also voiced his hope that Arab countries would recognise the Rafah crossing point between Egypt and the Gaza Strip as a "Palestinian-Egyptian post only" and that pressure would be exerted to ensure it is permanently re-opened.

"We failed on this," he admitted after the meeting, suggesting Egypt had refused to challenge Israel's frequent closures of crossing point, Gazans' only gateway to the rest of the world.

In their final statement, Arab foreign ministers voiced their "utmost indignation" at the veto used by the United States Saturday to block a resolution condemning the Beit Hanoun raid.

They also called for the "immediate release of Palestinian prisoners and the release of the Israeli soldier" Gilad Shalit, who was captured by Palestinian groups, including a group linked to the ruling Hamas movement on June 25, sparking a widescale offensive in the Gaza Strip.

The Qatari foreign minister called for a conference on regional issues that would group "Israel, involved Arab countries and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council".

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