EU begins paying aid to Palestinians

"We have kept our promise to help ease the suffering of the Palestinian people."

Jan Egeland 298 (photo credit: AP)
Jan Egeland 298
(photo credit: AP)
The European Union said Friday it has begun paying "social allowances" to 625,000 Palestinians left unpaid and impoverished because of the financial crisis besetting the Hamas-led Palestinian government. The funds - made through a program overseen by the World Bank - bypass the Palestinian Authority government and benefit "those who have suffered a significant loss of income" when much foreign aid and some of the Palestinians' own revenues dried up after Hamas came to power earlier this year. Besides direct cash payments of about US$347 to each person, EU money will finance Palestinian health services and utilities, notably fuel to run generators. Among the 625,000 Palestinians now receiving direct financial support are 11,500 health workers who are no longer being paid, said EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner. The EU is funneling some US$771,000 a month through the program, launched in July for a three-month period. Ferrero-Waldner said she hoped a review this month would result in its continuation. In all, the EU has put aside $135 million to be disbursed through the aid plan. The 25 EU states are contributing another €35 million $45 million. "We have kept our promise to help relieve the suffering of the Palestinian people during the current crisis," she told reporters before the start of a two-day meeting of EU foreign ministers who considered ways to revive the Middle East peace process after the Israel-Hezbollah war. Ferrero-Waldner said that, to date, the EU special funding program has paid for, among other things, medical supplies to 413 primary health care centers and 22 hospitals, and the purchase of 1.5 million liters of fuel to run air conditioning and generators at hospitals and water facilities, after the Gaza power plant was knocked out by Israel in July. Also Friday, the EU pledged $64 million in humanitarian aid to Palestinians at a donors' conference in Sweden. UN humanitarian chief Jan Egeland said several other "impressive new pledges" were made at the meeting that focused on the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip. "I believe today we will take a big step forward toward raising more than $200 million for an EU emergency appeal to help Palestinians," he said in Stockholm.