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Last Updated: Monday, 17 December 2007, 19:39 GMT
Palestinians 'win $7bn aid vow'
Nicolas Sarkozy embraces Condoleezza Rice as Mahmoud Abbas stands by at the donors' conference
Nicolas Sarkozy and Condoleezza Rice led the calls for aid
Foreign aid of at least $7bn (3.5bn) has been pledged to the Palestinians at a major donors' conference in Paris, France's foreign minister has said.

The figure cited by Bernard Kouchner exceeded the $5.6bn over three years which Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had asked for.

The pledge by 68 states and organisations came at the biggest such meeting in a decade.

The money is earmarked for creating a viable Palestinian state.

But the package was rejected by Mr Abbas's rivals, Hamas.

The Islamist group, which wrested control of the Gaza Strip from Mr Abbas in June, was not invited to the conference, which it called a "declaration of war" on it.

Two themes dominated the conference, BBC Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen reports from Paris: the need for donors to shore up the Palestinian Authority and the need for Israel to change Palestinian lives for the better.

Our editor notes that attempts to help the 1.4 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are still hamstrung by the desire of the donors, Israel and Mr Abbas not to do anything that might assist Hamas.

'Moment of truth'

Mr Abbas told the conference that without the aid, the Palestinian territories faced a "total catastrophe" and he challenged Israel to freeze all settlement activity.

UK: 243m ($490m) over three years
European Union: $650m in 2008
US: $555m in 2008
France: $300m over three years
Germany: $290m over three years
Japan: $150m
South Korea: $13m over three years

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in turn called for "the continued and unwavering support of the international community" for the Palestinian Authority.

"This conference is literally the government's last hope to avoid bankruptcy," she said.

Monday's summit follows last month's US-backed Middle East conference in Annapolis, Maryland, which launched negotiations aimed at creating a Palestinian state within the next 12 months.

UK Secretary of State for International Development Douglas Alexander said in Paris: "It is crucial that the international community maintain the momentum started at Annapolis, and play its part by offering substantial financial as well as political support."

A key element of the renewed peace talks is the US-backed road map, which requires Israel to freeze settlement-building activity and the Palestinians to disarm militants.

After the Annapolis talks, Israel unveiled plans to expand a settlement on occupied land between Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

Mr Abbas told the conference that both the Palestinians and Israelis should each meet their road map commitments "without excuses".

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Israel would have to reconcile its legitimate security needs with allowing Palestinians more freedom of movement.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told the summit that Israel was committed to its obligations, "including in relation to settlement activities".

"We do not want the image of Israel in the Palestinian mind to be a soldier at a checkpoint," she added.

'Abhorrent conditions'

The aid package formally includes Gaza, but analysts say most of the money will go to the West Bank, controlled by Mr Abbas.

A man carrying a UN food aid in Gaza (file)
Gaza is dependent on aid from the international community

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told the summit that people in Gaza were living in the "most abhorrent conditions" that had "devastating effects on the economy and on family livelihoods".

The new envoy of the Quartet of Middle East peace negotiators, ex-UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, told donors their pledges would be "indispensable" to the creation of a Palestinian state.

The biggest pledges came from the European Union and the US, which promised $650m and $555m respectively.

It is the biggest gathering of its kind since 1996.

The World Bank and several aid organisations have said that until Israel lifts its system of restrictions on the movement of Palestinian people and goods, giving more money will not rebuild the Palestinians' economy.

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