Sweden to promise emergency aid to Palestinians

Sweden will increase funding for Palestinian aid efforts by responding to an emergency appeal by the United Nation's relief agency, the country's International Development minister said Monday. Carin Jamtin said Sweden has already donated 230 million kronor (US$32 million, 25 million) to the Palestinians through the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, but is likely to also match last year's emergency donation of 92 million kronor (US$13 million, 10 million).

Jamtin said after meeting with UNRWA head Karen AbuZayd in Stockholm that she was not sure of the exact figure to be donated. AbuZayd said her agency has already received more than half of the emergency funds requested from international donors, and thanked Scandinavian governments for being generous.

Norway announced last week it would increase its donation to 150 million kroner (US$24.5 million, Ђ 19.2 million) after officials held meetings with AbuZayd. " Sweden and Norway rescued UNRWA, while the other governments were thinking (about) what to do ... when the new (Hamas-led) government took power," she said.

After the militant Islamic group Hamas recently won Palestinian elections and formed a government, the occupied Gaza Strip and West Bank were plunged into an economic crisis as aid and transfers were cut off. The so-called Quartet of donors the United States , United Nations, European Union and Russia on Tuesday eased their stance on cutting off aid to Palestinians, agreeing to funnel aid directly to the Palestinian people and bypass Hamas, which is listed as a terrorist organization by the U.S. and the EU.

The UNRWA, which was set up to help Palestinian refugees from the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, had originally asked for US$95 million ( Ђ 74 million) in emergency appeal from international donors in 2006, but will likely double the amount to US$200 million (156 million), which is what it has requested for the last five years, AbuZayd said. So far, about US$60 million ( Ђ 46.8 million) has been pledged. Sweden is UNRWA's third-largest donor, providing annual support of more than 200 million kronor (21 million; US$27.4 million). AbuZayd, an American, was appointed commissioner-general last June. She will head to Helsinki , Finland , and then Copenhagen , Denmark , after leaving Sweden later this week, reports the AP.