An international conference on the reconstruction of Gaza opened in Cairo on Sunday.
The conference aims to generate donations for the reconstruction of the coastal enclave following an Israeli bombardment in July and August. The assault killed nearly 2,200 Palestinians and injured more than 12,000 others. Much the enclave's infrastructure and buildings were destroyed.
Israel did not receive an invitation to the conference. Israel's Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman criticized not inviting Tel Aviv to the conference during an interview with Ynetnews hours before the conference began.
"You can't reconstruct Gaza without Israeli participation and without Israeli cooperation. The equipment goes through our border passes, so it's clear to everyone that you cannot move forward without Israeli cooperation," Lieberman said.
He however asserted that Tel Aviv would "try to be positive about the civil infrastructure and the rehabilitation of civilians" in Gaza.
Palestinians are represented by their new unity government, established following a Fatah-Hamas reconciliation agreement. This government conducted its first visit to Gaza on Thursday morning, four months after its formation in June.
Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Al-Hamdallah met with Ismail Haniya, the deputy head of Hamas, which still functions as the de facto authority in Gaza.
Turkey and Qatar, Hamas' main regional allies, are attending the conference.
Focus on Gaza's humanitarian crisis
As he inaugurated the conference, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi said ending the Israel-Palestine conflict was a duty to this generation.
He said Egypt had made "tireless efforts" to conclude a Palestinian-Israeli ceasefire agreement during the recent Israeli offensive.
These endeavours, he added, had continued even after the announcement of an armistice deal as Egypt had backed the implementation of the agreed terms and conditions.
He also said that Cairo had worked to end inter-Palestinian divisions and return the Palestinian Authority (PA) to Gaza in order to "emphasise the unity of the Palestinian territories."
"We will continue to back the Palestinian cause, accentuate its importance and make it a priority for the Arab world," he stated.
El-Sisi called for "turning the coexistence dream into reality" through abiding by the notions of "stability and prosperity" stipulated in the Arab Peace Initiative proposed by the Arab League in 2002.
The United States was the first state to announce an aid package for Gaza when State Secretary John Kerry said $212 million would be used to help the devastated Strip.
"I went to Gaza in 2009," he said. "The humanitarian challenge then was enormous; we are back yet again... The people of Gaza do need our help."
Qatari foreign minister Khaled Al-Attiya announced Doha's donation of $1billion for the reconstruction of Gaza.
Other political leaders, in their opening speeches, also stressed the dire humanitarian conditions in Gaza.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted the destruction of Gaza's infrastructure, homes, UN facilities – which sheltered many Palestinians – and the killing of many UN employees during the latest Israeli offensive.
Ban concluded by calling for large donations to rebuild the destroyed enclave.
Outgoing EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton, called on states attending the conference to provide unconditional support to the Palestinians and for Israel to lift restrictions on construction and development in the Strip.
She said 1.5 million Gazans, including women and children, should not pay the price for the absence of a political solution to the conflict.
The EU is the world's largest contributor to Gaza, she said, with 1.3 billion euros donated in recent years, despite the continent's financial crisis.
She expressed the EU's readiness to support the "gradual" restoration of PA governance of the Strip, and praised the latest meeting of the Palestinian unity government in Gaza.
Reconstruction needs $4 billion, Abbas says
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the destruction caused by the latest Israeli offensive was unbearable and that Israel should be held accountable. He asked the international community to prevent Israel from launching any new attack on the enclave.
He said his government was in dire need of help to rebuild the institutions that would be run by the new unity government.
Abbas also called for the opening of the Gaza border crossings.
"According to a plan prepared by the Palestinian government, reconstruction operations require $4 billion. The unity government will work on implementing the plan with the United Nations and civil society organisations," Abbas added.
Abbas also said he hoped the Israeli authorities would allow Palestinians to make use of more land in the occupied West Bank as Israel currently bars them from developing more than 60 percent of this territory.
The Gaza Strip has been subject to three wars within the past six years. They have claimed 3,760 lives, 2,145 of which were in the latest offensive. The number of people injured was 18,100.
Around 100,000 housing units were destroyed or damaged to varying degrees. Of those, about 20,000 homes were destroyed or severely damaged in the most recent offensive. More than 100,000 people are still displaced, with about 57,000 living in communal shelters.