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Obama Authorizes $20 Million in Aid to Gaza Palestinians

A U.S. official says President Barack Obama has authorized more aid to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip to help them recover from damage caused during a recent Israeli offensive.

U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell said Friday in Jerusalem that Mr. Obama has approved $20 million in emergency food and medical assistance for Gaza.

Fighting may cause more setbacks

Mitchell says it is important to consolidate a durable and sustainable cease-fire between Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers while immediately addressing Gaza's humanitarian needs. He also says fighting in the region may cause more setbacks to peace efforts.

Mitchell says Washington remains committed to, "actively and aggressively seeking a lasting peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors."

US envoy meets with Israeli opposition leader

The U.S. envoy continued his first official tour of the region Friday by meeting with Israeli opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem. Mr. Netanyahu is a front-runner in the race to become Israel's next prime minister after elections next month.

Mitchell met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah Thursday.

After the talks, the U.S. envoy said Mr. Abbas's Palestinian Authority should be involved in opening some of Gaza's crossings to commercial traffic. Mitchell said allowing commercial goods to enter Gaza legally is the only way to stop the illegal flow of arms into the territory.

No plans to meet with Hamas

Hamas ousted Mr. Abbas's forces from Gaza in 2007, confining his authority to the West Bank. Mitchell has no plans to meet with Hamas during his tour.

In another development, Egypt's Foreign Ministry says the country will host an international conference on rebuilding Gaza in March. It says the conference will be coordinated with Mr. Abbas's government.

Hamas and Israel declared unilateral cease-fires on January 18, ending a 22-day Israeli offensive against the group. Israel said it launched the operation to stop militants from firing rockets at Israeli communities. The fighting killed 1,300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.