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23 April 2002
A World Free of Poverty


International donors will meet in Oslo this week for a two-day conference on humanitarian and economic relief to the Palestinians, whose already meager economy has been shattered by the recent Israeli offensive on the West Bank, reports Agence France-Presse. Officials said US Assistant Secretary of State William Burns, Palestinian Minister for International Cooperation Nabil Shaath and EU Special Envoy Miguel Angel Moratinos would be among those attending the talks starting in the Norwegian capital tomorrow. UN special envoy Terje Roed-Larsen will probably also take part in the discussions, while Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres has yet to reply to the invitation.

"This is an informal meeting that was set a long time ago, before the recent troubles broke out, but the events have of course made the gathering even more important," said Karsten Karlsen of the Norwegian Foreign Ministry.

Israel's military offensive on the West Bank, launched March 29, has destroyed a large part of the Palestinian Authority's existing infrastructure. Unemployment in the West Bank and Gaza Strip now tops 75 percent and the territories' economy has gone "from chronic depression to paralysis," Roed-Larsen said last week at a joint press conference in Jerusalem with World Bank regional director Nigel Roberts.

The two called on donor countries to help rebuild the Palestinian infrastructure, which, prior to the current Israeli offensive, had already suffered damages worth $307 million during the Palestinian uprising from September 2000 to the end of 2001, according to the World Bank. The Straits Times (Singapore) also reports, quoting World Bank President James Wolfensohn as saying, "The quicker we can get peace, the better."

Shaath said yesterday he hoped donors would pledge $1.8 billion towards rebuilding the Palestinian infrastructure. A senior Palestinian diplomat said buildings, civil registers, municipal and ministerial archives and computer hard disks had all been destroyed during the Israeli onslaught.

Karlsen refused to speculate on whether the donors would pledge any aid at their Oslo meeting, nor the amount if any such aid were to be forthcoming. Representatives from the World Bank, the IMF, the Arab League, Russia, Canada, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Tunisia and Jordan are expected to attend the donors conference, notes the story. Reuters also reports.

In a separate report, AFP notes that Japan today announced $3.3 million in emergency aid to Palestinians following the Israeli army's incursion into their territories. The aid will be provided through the UNDP, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

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