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UN calls for more refugee aid at Palestinian development meet

AFP , Saturday 1 Mar 2014
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Representatives of 22 nations pledged their support for Palestinian development Saturday, but the UN urged more action for refugees "in need of aid" in an "increasingly dire" situation.

The Conference on Cooperation among East Asian Countries for Palestinian Development (CEAPAD) in Jakarta ended with Japan -- one of the world's biggest donors to the Palestinian Territories -- pledging $200 million, most in financial assistance to the Palestinian Authority and for infrastructure development.

But the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) said in a statement that more attention should be paid to Palestinian refugees, describing appalling conditions in the Syrian camp Yarmouk.

"I have observed many conflicts in my career, but I have seldom encountered as much destruction, hunger, fear and despair as I saw in Yarmouk this week," UNRWA commissioner-general Filippo Grandi said, adding Yarmouk had become "a symbol of the tragedies accumulating for Palestinian refugees".

UNRWA estimates the funding needs for Palestinian refugees to reach $1.5 billion in 2014. Last year's combined contributions to UNRWA by countries represented at CEAPAD, excluding Japan, amounted to $2 million.

Grandi urged Asian nations to increase their support for the UNRWA, which said it had delivered aid to five million refugees.

Other aid organisations have struggled to reach Yarmouk on the outskirts of Damascus, which has been bombarded for almost a year.

The CEAPAD participants reiterated in a joint statement their commitment to the ongoing Middle East peace process, with co-chairs Indonesia and Japan expressing hope for a two-state solution in the near future.

The conference came after US Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday that a full Middle East peace deal, which he is attempting to broker, will likely slip past the April 29 deadline. Kerry coaxed the two sides back to the negotiating table in late July after a three-year hiatus.

"We still believe that the two-state vision can be envisaged and realised. And here I must commend the... efforts of Mr John Kerry," Palestinian prime minister Rami Hamdallah said.

Kishida told the representatives that security in the Middle East was "by no means someone else's problem in a distant region" for Asian nations.

"I firmly believe participating countries share the common determination to assist in a Palestinian state-building that promises to bring about regional peace and stability," he said.

Hamdallah expressed gratitude to donor nations, but said Israeli settlements were "severely" hampering development.

"Sixty-two percent of all our land is still controlled by the Israeli authorities. This impedes any access we have to natural resources, and severely restricts our development," he said.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said that providing Palestinians with capacity-building was "critical".

"The people of Palestine have been struggling to achieve this dream for more than five decades," he said, adding Indonesia envisaged a Middle East "at peace with itself and the rest of the world".

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to leave for Washington on Sunday for talks with US President Barack Obama on the peace negotiations, while talks between Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and President Obama are slated for March 17.

CEAPAD is a Japanese initiative launched in Tokyo last year. This year's conference was co-chaired by Indonesia, the Palestinian Authority and Japan.

Among attending nations were South Africa, Singapore, Australia, Brunei and Vietnam, while China's special envoy on the Middle East Issue Wu Sike also attended.

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