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Sat 28 Feb 2009 08:54 PM

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Abbas insists on leading Gaza rebuilding

Ahead of donars' conference Palestinian president insists on ultimate control.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said on Saturday that his government should spearhead postwar reconstruction efforts in the Gaza Strip, days before a major international donors' conference.

However, while his Fatah party has relaunched reconciliation talks with the Islamist Hamas movement ruling Gaza, the region's political standoffs could leave reconstruction efforts stillborn regardless of how much money is pledged.

"We expect rapid international aid from all parties to completely rebuild Gaza," Abbas told reporters after meeting the European Union's top diplomat Javier Solana in the Israeli-occupied West Bank town of Ramallah.

"We also expect that (as in the past) there will be one mechanism, the Palestinian Authority," he said, referring to his Western-backed government, which was ousted from Gaza when Hamas seized power there in June 2007.

The Palestinian Authority and the Hamas-run government in Gaza have each insisted on leading the rebuilding effort, but Western countries - which blacklist Hamas as a terror group - have said they will work only with Abbas.

"I would like to insist in agreement with the president that the mechanism used to deploy the money is the one that represents the Palestinian Authority," Solana said. "I don't think there is a need for new mechanisms."

The Palestinian Authority has said it will request 2.8 billion dollars at a meeting on Monday in the Egyptian resort of Sharm El-Sheikh, which is expected to draw representives from more than 70 countries.

It will be the largest international meeting on Gaza since Israel's massive three-week offensive came to a halt on January 18 after killing more than 1,300 Palestinians and leaving vast swathes of the impoverished territory in ruins.

But reconstruction efforts have been hindered by Israeli sanctions put in place since the Hamas takeover that seal the territory off from all but vital humanitarian goods, and the ceasefires that ended the fighting remain fragile.

Palestinian militants have fired more than 100 rockets and mortar rounds at southern Israel since the end of the war, including five rockets on Saturday that caused no casualties, according to the Israeli military.

Israel has meanwhile launched several air raids and some brief ground incursions it says are aimed at militants, weapons caches, and smuggling tunnels along the porous Gaza-Egypt border.

Israel and the West have said they will only support reconstruction efforts led by the Palestinian Authority, but since Hamas seized power in Gaza Abbas's authority has been confined to the West Bank.

Hamas - which won the most seats in 2006 parliamentary elections - has insisted that its government lead aid efforts.

The two factions met in Cairo last week and pledged to work towards forming a national unity government to handle the rebuilding, but Israel and the international community have always boycotted governments that include Hamas.

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