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(photo credit: AP)
Mideast envoy Tony Blair on Tuesday praised a Palestinian development plan that seeks $5.6 billion in aid over three years, and urged donor countries to come up with the money.
Some 90 countries and international organizations are to meet in Paris next week to consider the aid request.
Describing the plan as "coherent," Blair noted that the IMF and the World Bank have also come out in support of it.
Under the proposal, about 70 percent of the aid would be used to try to reduce a towering budget deficit, and 30 percent would be used for development programs. Gradually, the balance would shift in favor of development. The Palestinian government pledges to curtail its bloated public payroll and reduce subsidies of utilities.
"This is the moment, where if we are not to back the Palestinians in this endeavor, when they are presenting that type of plan, in a way that I think they have never done before ... if we are not prepared to back the Palestinians now, then we are not prepared to give them a chance," Blair said.
One element of the plan seeks to boost tourism, and Blair did his part Tuesday, saying biblical Bethlehem is a safe place to visit. He urged countries warning against travel to Bethlehem to reconsider their travel advisories.
"There is no reason for people not to come here and stay overnight, which I am doing tonight," Blair said.
Bethlehem tourism officials have complained that pilgrims usually come to Bethlehem on bus trips from nearby Jerusalem, briefly visit the Church of the Nativity, built over Jesus' traditional birth grotto, and then leave town.
Blair, after visiting a trade exhibition in the town, said the commitment to lifting restrictions on movement and access by Israel will be tested in Bethlehem over Christmas.
"In respect to restrictions on movement and access in this part of Palestine, I think what happens here in Bethlehem will be an important test," he said.
Under the Palestinian development plan, $30 million would be spent on boosting tourism in 2008, said Tourism Minister Khouloud Deibes. Of that money, $3 million would be spent on Bethlehem, she told The Associated Press.
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