Vol. 5 Num 400 Tue. July 12, 2005  

Israel looks for US, EU fund to bolster pullout

Israel looked yesterday to international support for its pullout from the Gaza Strip, requesting a multi-billion dollar aid package from the United States and lobbying for EU backing from its visiting foreign policy chief Javier Solana.

A senior aide to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said that officials who have travelled to Washington would be seeking a package of aid amounting to some 2.2 billion dollars to help cushion the impact of next month's withdrawal.

"This package, which will require approval from the American Congress, could take the form of a combination of grants, loans or bank guarantees," the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Israel had been on track to extract 500 million dollars from Washington to help finance the pullout, but in initial talks, the Americans said they were prepared to grant Israel "generous aid," according to a report on public radio.

The money will cover the cost of relocating military bases to Israel and improve security on the Egyptian-Israeli border after the pullout.

The rest will be used to develop the Galilee and Negev regions, where many of the settlers from Gaza are likely to be rehoused.

Led by the director generals of the prime minister's office and the finance ministry, Ilan Cohen and Yossi Bachar, and including various security officials, the delegation left Israel late last week.

The officials are to meet a group of US officials including Elliott Abrams, deputy national security adviser.

Washington's annual aid to Israel amounts to around three billion dollars, including two billion dollars in military outlay.

Israel's operation to evacuate all 8,000 Jewish settlers living in Gaza, as well as the inhabitants of four small Jewish enclaves in the northern West Bank, is to begin in mid-August.

While hugely contentious in Israel, the move has won widespread international backing, including from the European Union.