WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has agreed to attend an international donors conference in Cairo next month to help rebuild the Gaza Strip after Israelâ€™s December invasion, Egyptâ€™s foreign minister said on Thursday.
Speaking after meeting Clinton, Ahmed Aboul Gheit said the top U.S. diplomat would attend the March 2 meeting, which is being held in coordination with the Palestinian Authority.
â€œWe expect lots of commitments from everybody, lots of commitments for reconstruction,â€ Aboul Gheit told reporters outside the State Department.
Preliminary estimates put the damage in Hamas-run Gaza after Israelâ€™s offensive, which killed 1,300 Palestinians, at nearly $2 billion.
Saudi Arabia has said it would donate $1 billion but the United States has not yet indicated what it will contribute. There are also U.S. concerns that funds not be channeled through Hamas, which Washington brands a terrorist group.
A senior State Department official confirmed Clinton would be in Cairo but said it had not yet been formally announced and details were still being made.
â€œThey agreed on the shared commitment to bring about a comprehensive peace and the need to have a successful Cairo conference,â€ he said of Clintonâ€™s meeting with Aboul Gheit.
He did not have estimates of what the United States might contribute toward rebuilding Gaza.
â€œ(The United States) hopes that conditions on the ground will allow the United States and other members of the international community to provide substantial levels of assistance to the people of Gaza,â€ the State Department said on Wednesday in a statement.
Aboul Gheit said he had urged Clinton and the Obama administration to show a strong commitment to Arab-Israeli peace and told her 2009 was a â€œcrucial year.â€
The Bush administration was accused by many Arabs of siding with Israel on key issues and Aboul Gheit said he expected a more even-handed approach, particularly in urging an end to Israeli settlement activity.
â€œThey say they understand the problem of settlement activities and that it has to come to an end. All these are very encouraging signs,â€ he said.
Israeli-Palestinian peace talks revived by the Bush administration are stalled, particularly after Israelâ€™s invasion of Gaza.
The Obama administration has appointed a special envoy to tackle the Israeli-Palestinian crisis but the political stalemate in Israel after this weekâ€™s elections and delays in forming a new government will likely delay further a resumption of peace moves.
(Reporting by Sue Pleming, Editing by Sandra Maler)