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Solana Visits Gaza as EU Promises $552 Million in Aid

The European Union's foreign policy chief has expressed his support for the people of the Gaza Strip on his first visit to the territory since the Palestinian militant group Hamas seized control in June 2007.

Javier Solana toured Gaza ahead of a donor conference next week aimed at raising funds to rebuild Gaza after Israel's devastating three-week military campaign against Hamas, which ended last month.

Separately, the European Commission said Friday it will pledge about $552 million in recovery aid to Gaza at next week's conference in Egypt.

The Palestinian Authority is seeking $2.8 billion at the meeting to rebuild Gaza.

Meanwhile, talks on forming a unity government in Israel ended without agreement, increasing the likelihood that former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will end up heading a hardline coalition, including right-wing and religious parties opposed to peace talks with the Palestinians.

Mr. Netanyahu said Friday he intends to continue peace talks, but he did not say what approach he would take.

His rival, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, said after the coalition talks that the two sides had failed to agree on issues she considers fundamental. She singled out her support for the two-state solution, with Palestinian and Israeli states side-by-side.

Mr. Netanyahu and his Likud party have been tasked with forming the next Israeli government, putting him in line to recapture the prime minister's job if he can form a coalition. Mr. Netanyahu still has five more weeks to cobble together a coalition, and has said he would prefer a broad-based deal that includes Livni's centrist Kadima party.

The political wrangling in Tel Aviv comes as the Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas have been trying to heal their own rift and re-create a Palestinian unity government, as well as a flurry of diplomacy aimed at forging a truce between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said the EU aid to Gaza will focus on removing rubble and unexploded ordinance. It also will include assistance to children and a "cash for work" program.

On Thursday, rival Palestinian factions, including Fatah and Hamas, signed a deal in Cairo aimed at creating a national unity government.

Senior Fatah official and former Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei said the two sides set up committees to work out details on forming a unity government, presidential and parliamentary elections, and a new security force for Gaza and the West Bank.

Meanwhile, U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell is due to meet Friday with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad of Fatah in the West Bank. He has no plans to meet with Hamas, which the United States considers a terrorist group.

Mitchell met Thursday with Mr. Netanyahu and with Foreign Minister Livni. It is his second trip to Israel since taking office last month.