Appeal for $95m in Palestine aid kicks off multibillion-dollar rebuilding effort

Donor fatigue and fears of Hamas pocketing aid cash could hamper Gaza repairs

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The UN on Thursday launched a snap $95 million appeal to help Palestinians following the 11-day conflict with Israel.

It is the first fund-raising move in a reconstruction effort likely to run into billions of dollars.

Lynn Hastings, the UN’s top humanitarian official for Palestinians, said the donor alert was for quick fixes to Israeli strikes that damaged homes, schools and hospitals, left 800,000 people without access to piped water and severed the supply of electricity.

The UN is battling fatigue among donors who are loath to pour more money into a conflict where decades of peace talks have achieved little, where Palestinians are divided and fears persist that aid funds may end up rearming Gaza-based militants.

"It's a very, very fast appeal that's been done within a week after the cessation of hostilities," Ms Hastings said in answer to a question from The National.

The appeal aims to benefit one million Palestinians, most of them living in Gaza, which bore the brunt of strikes between May 10 and May 21 in the worst violence between Israelis and Palestinians since 2014.

“The money is to meet the very immediate needs – food, health, medicines, medical supplies, trying to get some infrastructure repaired quickly, some cash-for-work or just cash assistance so people can go out and buy food or pay their rent,” said Ms Hastings.

Estimates of the overall damage to Gaza’s infrastructure run into the billions of dollars, and the US, Qatar and other donors have already pledged funds for reconstruction, but this week’s snap appeal is for short-term Palestinian needs.

Israel and the US have said that Hamas militants are adept at siphoning off funds from reconstruction cash-flows and using the money to build rockets and dig tunnels for launching future attacks on Israel.

“We have accountability mechanisms. We do due diligence. We also have a very, very heavy monitoring process in place," Ms Hastings said.

The head of Hamas’s political wing, Yahya Sinwar, this week vowed the group would not touch a “single cent" of international aid for rebuilding the battered enclave, saying cashflows would be “transparent and impartial”.

Addressing the UN Security Council later on Thursday, Tor Wennesland, the UN special co-ordinator for the Middle East peace process, urged nations to donate to help bring food, fuel, Covid-19 vaccines and other aid into Gaza.

“The humanitarian impact of the fighting on Gaza has been devastating, compounding an already dire situation,” said Mr Wennesland.

He called for an “integrated, robust package of support for a swift recovery and sustainable reconstruction that supports the Palestinian people and strengthens their institutions”.

On a mission to the Middle East on Tuesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington would provide new aid to help rebuild Gaza as part of efforts to bolster a ceasefire with Israel.

Speaking in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Mr Blinken said the US would provide an additional $75m in development and economic aid to the Palestinians this year, $5.5m in disaster relief for Gaza and $32m to the UN aid agency for Palestinians.

Other offers have come from Egypt, Norway, Britain and others, but the track record of countries delivering on pledges is weak.

A study by the Brookings Institution think tank found that many funding promises made after the 2014 conflict did not materialise.

At least 253 Palestinians were killed and 1,900 injured in the recent 11 days of fighting. Attacks on Israeli territory by Palestinian militants groups, including Hamas, killed 10 and wounded another 357.