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UN Seeks US$454 Mln Funds for Palestine
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UN agencies appealed Thursday for donors to provide US$453.6 million in emergency humanitarian funds for the Palestinian territories next year as poverty deepens amid a financial crisis.

The appeal is the largest launched for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank and comes on top of US$384 million sought for this year, the United Nations said.

"Two-thirds of Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are now living in poverty," Kevin Kennedy, the UN's humanitarian coordinator, said in a statement. "Growing numbers of people are unable to cover their daily food needs."

The United Nations said the deterioration was linked to the financial woes faced by the Palestinian Authority, which is led by the militant Islamic group Hamas.

The United States and Europe imposed crippling sanctions on the administration when Hamas took power in March because of the group's refusal to recognize Israel and renounce violence. Israel has also withheld tax and customs receipts.

"It is increasingly difficult for people to cope in such a volatile and unpredictable environment," said Karen Koning AbuZayd, commissioner General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).

About 1.4 million Palestinians live in coastal Gaza and 2.4 million in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

On top of the Western sanctions, Palestinians say Israeli settlements, military checkpoints and a barrier cutting into the West Bank have also hit their economy because they seal off towns from workplaces, schools and agricultural fields.

Israel says the barrier and checkpoints are needed to prevent militant attacks.

In Gaza, residents say Israel's frequent closures of the strip's border crossings have paralysed life. Israel says it imposes the measures for security reasons.

"Humanitarian assistance can cushion a deteriorating situation, but it ultimately cannot stop the decline," said David Shearer, head of the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Palestinian territories.

"Ultimately, only a political settlement can generate significant improvement."

Israel and Palestinian militant groups declared a truce in Gaza on November 26 in the wake of a crushing, five-month-old Israeli army offensive.

The international community hopes the shaky ceasefire can revive peace negotiations that foundered in 2000, just before the start of a Palestinian uprising.

Hamas PM visits Teheran

Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh arrived in Teheran Thursday for talks with top officials in the Islamic state, a key financial backer of his Hamas government.

Haniyeh, who is on a foreign tour which also included Syria, will meet Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during a four-day visit to Iran, the Iranian presidential official said.

Iran, which like Hamas refuses to recognize the state of Israel, has given Haniyeh's government US$120 million to make up for a shortfall when Western governments cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority led by the Palestinian Islamic group.

Iran's support for the Palestinians has grown more vocal since Ahmadinejad came to power in August 2005.

(China Daily December 8, 2006)

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