July 8, 2008 / 6:10 PM / in 10 years

Israel hindering Palestinian aid effort: officials

PARIS (Reuters) - Israel’s checkpoints in the West Bank and blockade of Gaza are preventing an economic recovery there and limiting the impact of international aid, France, the European Commission and Middle East peace envoy Tony Blair said.

Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert attends a Kadima party meeting at the parliament in Jerusalem July 7, 2008. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

An international donors’ conference in December pledged more than $7 billion in aid to the government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to try to reinforce its authority as it tries to negotiate a peace deal with Israel in U.S.-backed talks.

After a regular follow-up meeting on Monday to monitor the aid effort, Blair, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and European Union External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said the international effort’s impact would be limited if Israel’s roadblocks remained in place.

“Restrictions by the government of Israel on Palestinian movement and access continue to weigh heavily on the economic outlook,” the officials said in a statement issued overnight.

“Without a significant lifting of such barriers in the West Bank, and a relaxation of the restrictions on humanitarian and commercial flows to the Gaza Strip ... any economic recovery will continue to be inhibited,” they said.

Several states, the World Bank and the Quartet of Middle East peace negotiators represented by Blair said in December Israel had to lift the checkpoints that criss-cross the occupied West Bank if it wanted the aid to make a big difference.

Under a truce brokered between Israel and Hamas Islamists by Egypt on June 19, militants in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip are required to halt rocket and mortar fire in return for Israel gradually lifting a blockade of the coastal territory.

An Israeli official announced on Tuesday that all but one of the Jewish state’s border crossings with the Gaza Strip would be shut because of a mortar attack on Monday, but Israel later said it would reopen its border crossings at Egypt’s request.

There had been “some progress” on a package of measures agreed with Israel on economic and social development, lifting restrictions on movement and developing areas of the West Bank, Blair and the other officials said, but more needed to be done.

“Israel should make the full and rapid implementation of the package it agreed to a high priority,” they said.

Donors pledged to pay $3.4 billion in aid in 2008. In the first six months of the year, $920 million of direct budgetary aid had been paid to Abbas’s Palestinian Authority, and donors had signed agreements for $1 billion in development projects.

The officials also faulted some countries for not paying money that had been pledged at the donors’ conference.

“The priority over the coming months will be to secure contributions of Arab League members. These will be crucial to finance the budgetary gap and to support the Palestinian institutions,” they said, without naming individual countries.

Arab nations pledged 20 percent of the $7.7 billion promised at the donors’ conference, the final pledge list showed.

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