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UN seeks millions in global aid for Gaza reconstruction

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The United Nations issued a worldwide appeal Thursday for $613 million to help Palestinians recover from Israel's military assault on the Gaza Strip.

But U.N. and Palestinian officials warned that the effort would fall short unless Israel and Egypt end their blockade and allow construction material, heavy equipment and spare parts to reach the enclave.

Israel and Egypt have kept Gaza's borders tightly controlled or closed since Hamas, a militant Islamic group, seized power in the territory in June 2007.

Both countries are resisting international pressure to ease the restrictions following Israel's 22-day offensive to halt rocket attacks into its territory. Nearly 1,300 Palestinians were killed in the offensive and thousands of homes and other buildings were destroyed. Damage was estimated at $2 billion.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced the call for donations at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

"Help is indeed needed urgently," he said, to meet critical needs for food, clean water, shelter, medicine and restoration of basic services.

President Obama's Middle East envoy, George J. Mitchell, said during a visit to the West Bank on Thursday that ending the blockade would also shore up a cease-fire that took effect last week.

For a third straight day, sporadic violence breached the calm. Palestinian medical officials said an Israeli air strike wounded 17 civilians, including 10 schoolchildren and a pregnant woman in the Gaza town of Khan Yunis.

The Israeli military said the attack was aimed at a Hamas militant on a motorcycle, who was also wounded.

Anger in Davos: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stalked off the stage at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, red-faced Thursday after reproaching Israeli President Shimon Peres over the Gaza offensive by saying "You kill people."

The packed audience, which included President Obama's adviser Valerie Jarrett, appeared stunned as Erdogan and Peres raised their voices and traded accusations.

Peres was passionate in his defense of Israel's 22-day offensive against Hamas militants, launched in reaction to eight years of rocket fire aimed at Israeli territory. As he spoke, Peres often turned toward Erdogan, who in his remarks had criticized the Israeli blockade of Gaza, saying it was an "open air prison, isolated from the rest of the world."

The heated debate with Israel and Turkey at the center was significant because of the key role Turkey has played as a moderator between Israel and Syria.

Peres pointed at the departing Erdogan and said Turkey would have reacted the same way had rockets been falling on Istanbul, participants said.

Erdogan later stressed he left not because of a dispute with Peres but because he was not given time to respond to the Israeli leader's remarks. Erdogan also complained that Peres had 25 minutes while he was given only 12 minutes.

UN seeks millions in global aid for Gaza reconstruction 01/29/09 [Last modified: Thursday, January 29, 2009 11:15pm]

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