Israel to seek $2 billion more for pullout

Added U.S. aid would pay for bases, development


JERUSALEM - Israel, which has traditionally been the largest recipient of U.S. assistance, is seeking an additional $2 billion or more to help pay for its planned withdrawal of soldiers and Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip, Israeli officials said yesterday.

The aid would be used to move Israeli military bases to new sites in Israel, and for economic development in two thinly populated regions of Israel, the Negev desert in the south and Galilee in the north, said a senior Israeli official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan is to begin in mid-August and calls for evacuating the nearly 9,000 Jewish settlers in Gaza and several hundred in the West Bank. The government is offering bonuses to settlers who agree to move to the Negev or Galilee regions.

Asked about the aid request, Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres said: "We have to develop the Negev and the Galilee, which are the only alternatives" to Gaza and the West Bank.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported yesterday that Israel would seek $2.2 billion, though the Israeli official who spoke on condition of anonymity described it as a ballpark figure that still had to be negotiated.

An Israeli delegation has arrived in Washington and will meet with members of the National Security Council, the Israeli official said. The Israelis want an aid package that would be spread over several years and include grants and loan guarantees, the official said.

Israeli officials have estimated the cost of the withdrawal, including moving and compensating the settlers, and operations carried out by the security forces, to be $1.7 billion.

Under the Israeli government's formula for compensating Jewish settlers, many families are expected to receive $200,000 to $300,000, which is intended to replicate their current standard of living in Gaza.

For many years, Israel has received more U.S. aid than any other nation. Last year, the United States gave Israel $2.3 billion in military aid and more than $500 million in economic assistance, according to the U.S. Embassy in Israel. Combined U.S. military and economic assistance to Israel has reached $100 billion since Israel was founded in 1948.

The new Israeli request is in addition to the annual U.S. aid.

The Palestinians get about $1 billion a year in international aid, mostly for urgent needs such as food and housing. In 2004, the United States gave $251.5 million, the embassy said.

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