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Chirac Calls for Fund to Aid Palestinians

Lisa Bryant

French President Jacques Chirac called Friday for a special World Bank fund to be created to channel international assistance to the Palestinians. Mr. Chirac held talks in Paris with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

As he has done before, President Chirac said it was essential that international aid to the Palestinian people continue.

In remarks to reporters at the Elysee presidential palace, Mr. Chirac said international assistance must be maintained for both humane and technical reasons. He said he would reiterate his plea to the European Union and to other members of the international community.

The European Union is the leading donor in the Palestinian territories, contributing about $650 million a year.

But like the United States, the EU has suspended direct aid to the Palestinian territories, until the ruling Hamas party recognizes Israel, renounces violence and backs the Middle East peace process. However, European humanitarian assistance continues to be channeled to the region indirectly.

During talks with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas Friday, Mr. Chirac proposed creating an account managed by the World Bank that could directly pay the salaries of Palestinian civil servants. Many Palestinians have at least one family member employed in the government and are feeling the bite of the reduced assistance.

And because Palestinian security forces also await payment, the impact may increase tensions in an already volatile region.

President Abbas, who has been touring Europe to plead the Palestinian cause, echoed his appeal in Paris.

Mr. Abbas described the assistance, including that for civil servant salaries, as essential. Without aid, he said, the Palestinians faced catastrophe.

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