Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas urged the international community Monday to step up support to the Palestinians or risk a "catastrophe", as he appealed for 5.6 billion dollars in aid at a major donors' conference.
Ninety international delegations gathered in Paris for the one-day conference to agree an aid package to stabilise the Palestinian economy and shore up the peace process with Israel.
"Without this support, without the payment of aid that will allow the Palestinian treasury to fulfill its role, we will be facing a total catastrophe in the West Bank and Gaza," Abbas told the opening ceremony, at a conference centre near the Arc de Triomphe.
Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad formally asked donors for 5.6 billion dollars (3.85 billion euros) including 3.9 billion dollars in direct support to the budget for his plan to develop a viable economy and institutions for a future Palestinian state.
"To make this vision reality, we need your financial, political and moral support," said Fayyad, an economist whom Abbas appointed prime minister.
300 million dollars from France
French President Nicolas Sarkozy pledged 300 million dollars (210 million euros) on behalf of host country France, while the United States, the European Union and Germany were expected to donate a further 1.35 billion dollars.
Israel is under pressure to lift restrictions on freedom of movement in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip to allow the plan to take shape.
As the conference kicked off, Abbas called on Israel -- represented by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni -- to freeze all settlements in the Palestinian territories to allow the newly-relaunched peace process to gain a foothold.
"I expect a complete halt of all settlement activities without exception," Abbas said, while also calling for the dismantlement of 127 "wildcat settlements," the lifting of military barrages, a halt to construction of the separation barrier and prisoner releases.
At the US-sponsored meeting in Annapolis, Maryland last month, Israel and the Palestinians pledged to seek a peace deal by the end of next year, relaunching negotiations frozen for seven years.
Around 70 countries and the world's major international organisations attended the one-day Conference of Donors for a Palestinian State, the biggest of its kind since 1996.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and former British prime minister Tony Blair, international envoy for the Middle East Quartet, all took part.
Addressing delegates, Sarkozy said the conference must accompany the "progressive construction of a modern state."
The French president called for the creation of an international force to beef up the Palestinian security services, "when the time comes and when the conditions are right".
"The Palestinian Authority has pledged to uphold law and order... The Palestinian services need to reform, to become more professional. In parallel, Israel must withdraw from the West Bank," Sarkozy said.
"The international community must lend its support to meeting this difficult objective," he told the assembly.
Blair said in an interview with The Financial Times Monday he was "reasonably confident" the Palestinian requests would be met.
According to Rice, the Palestinians are seeking "around 1.6 to 1.7 billion" (dollars) for the coming year.
Sources in Rice's delegation said the United States was prepared to provide 550 million dollars in 2008, which they described as "an historically large figure."
Sarkozy said France would sign off 25 million euros in budget support later Monday "so that starting in January the Palestinians can meet their most pressing needs", with the rest of the funds to be provided between now and 2010.
The European Commission was due to announce 650 million dollars (450 million euros) in aid for 2008, the EU's external relations commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said.
The German government, meanwhile, promised 200 million dollars by 2010.
Güncelleme Tarihi: 17 Aralık 2007, 16:55