PA turns to Arab donors to close gaping deficit

After a disagreement with European donors, the Palestinian Authority has turned to Arab countries for help in ending a "suffocating financial crisis," a top Palestinian official said Monday, after the West froze its funding. PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has been on a diplomatic tour of Gulf Arab states in recent days. He visited Qatar on Monday. "We are in desperate need of Arab aid," said Salam Fayyad, who recently stepped down as finance minister in order to run for parliament. Fayyad is expected to return to the finance post after the January 25 election. Fayad said international aid has helped cover about one-third of a $1 billion deficit in the 2005 operating budget, and the Palestinians are searching for more help in covering the remainder. The Palestinians are heavily dependent on foreign aid from Western donors and Arab states. But with the exception of Saudi Arabia, Arab countries have largely failed to keep their financial pledges to the Palestinians. Arab donors sent the Palestinians only about one-third of the $650 million in promised assistance last year, officials say.