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Kerry pushes for Middle East peace in conference

A handout picture released by the Palestinian president''s office (PPO) shows Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas (R) greeting US Secretary of State John Kerry during the Gaza Donor Conference in Cairo.

US Secretary of State John Kerry has called for a renewed commitment to achieving Middle East peace, saying a lasting deal between Israel, the Palestinians and all their neighbours was possible.

But prospects for a renewed peace process appeared dim as Kerry offered no specifics on how to restart negotiations in his speech to a Gaza reconstruction conference in Cairo that raised more than US$5 billion in aid.

The last round of US-brokered peace talks foundered in April over Israeli objections to a Palestinian political unity pact that included the Islamist Hamas movement and over Palestinian opposition to Israeli settlement expansion.

"Out of this conference must come not just money but a renewed commitment from everybody to work for peace that meets the aspirations of all, for Israelis, for Palestinians, for all people of this region," Kerry told the meeting.

"And I promise you the full commitment of President (Barack) Obama, myself and the United States to try to do that," he said.

At the conference Kerry also announced an additional US$212 million in US aid to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, which was badly damaged during a conflict with Israel in July and August in which 2,100 Palestinians died, most of them civilians.

An estimated 18,000 homes and vital infrastructure were destroyed in the seven-week war between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist militant group Hamas.

The Palestinians have put the cost of reconstruction at about US$4 billion and Norway's Foreign Minister Borge Brende said the conference had secured US$5.4 billion in aid, half of which would be used for rebuilding.

Dozens of countries are attending the Cairo meeting. The Palestinian Authority hopes that moves by a new unity government towards assuming control in Hamas-dominated Gaza could make wealthy donor states less wary of providing reconstruction aid.

Among countries offering reconstruction aid for Gaza, Qatar offered US$1 billion, Kuwait and United Arab Emirates promised US$200 million each and Turkey pledged US$200 million.

Qatar's relations with Egypt have been strained since then army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi toppled Islamist President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood last year.

The small but ambitious Gulf Arab state's close ties to Hamas, an offshoot of the Brotherhood, also angered Egypt, which is influential across the Arab world.

Israel and the United States consider Hamas a terrorist organisation.

When journalists were allowed in briefly for the start of one-on-one talks in a Cairo suburb, Kerry was overheard asking Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas: "Did you hear about Qatar?" presumably referring to the US$1 billion pledge.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said pledges from member states would reach 450 million euros.

France said it would contribute 40 million euros (US$50.50 million) to the Palestinians and Germany offered 50 million euros. Britain's ambassador to Egypt, John Casson, told Reuters London would provide US$32 million for the reconstruction efforts.

"We can't allow people in Gaza to sink into despair," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in a statement.

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Tags:  Qatar  Kerry  US  Palestine  Israel  Gaza  conference  





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