GAZA, Aug 10 (Reuters) - A rare agreement between foes
Israel and Libya will let Libya underwrite the rebuilding of
1,250 Gaza Strip homes destroyed in Israel's offensive there
last year, UN officials said on Tuesday.
But Libyan officials denied there was any link between the
aid agreement and the release this week of an Israeli
photographer who had been arrested five months ago during a
visit to the north African country.
Israel and Libya are technically in a state of war, and oil
exporter Libya has been one of Israel's most outspoken critics
on the international stage for decades.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which
looks after Palestinian refugees, said under a deal between the
two countries Israel would allow Libya's Gaddafi Foundation
charity to provide $50 million to rebuild Gaza homes.
In notably measured remarks about an age-old enemy, Israeli
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman this week described Libya as
a reliable partner.
Lieberman, with assistance from an Austrian mediator,
recovered 34-year-old Rafael Hadad, an Israeli photographer who
was detained in March after traveling to Libya on a passport
issued by Tunisia, the country of his birth.
A Libyan official, who asked not to be identified, said in
Tripoli: There is no deal linking the release of Rafael Hadad
and the entry of housing units sent by the Gaddafi Foundation
into the Gaza Strip.
The official said Hadad had been photographing old Jewish
buildings and places of worship, was arrested because he told
immigration authorities he was Tunisian, and was released after
mediation by a European businessman.
LIBYAN AID SHIPMENT
Last month a Libyan-charted ship carrying cargo for
Palestinians in Gaza, which is under an Israeli blockade,
diverted instead to a nearby Egyptian port.
The Israeli blockade has been the subject of international
debate since nine activists were killed when Israeli troops
raided a Turkish-led aid flotilla in May.
Peter Ford, a representative of UNRWA's commissioner
general, said at the signing of the agreement with the Gaddafi
Foundation that hundreds of Palestinian families would benefit
significantly from the deal, but Israel should do more.
UNRWA calls on the Israeli authorities to issue the
necessary permissions promptly to allow us to use not only these
new Libyan funds, but also Saudi, Dutch, Japanese, and other
funds which are available to remedy this dreadful situation,
said Ford in a statement released by UNRWA.
Israel imposed a blockade on the Gaza Strip in 2007 after
Hamas Islamists took over the territory.
Israel bars the import to Gaza of cement and steel which it
says could be used for fortifications and weapons production.
The United Nations says this makes it difficult to rebuild Gaza.
Libya had wanted Israel to let the aid ship Amalthea dock in
Gaza in exchange for Hadad, an Israeli official said, speaking
about the negotiations under condition he not be named.
But Israel refused and the Amalthea docked instead at the
nearby Egyptian port of El Arish. Israel agreed that some 20
prefabricated structures in its cargo could be admitted to Gaza.
The Israeli foreign minister traveled to the Austrian
capital to meet Hadad and bring him back to Israel.
After bringing Hadad home on Monday Lieberman said: I think
that the deal with the Libyan government was very, very
successful, reliable. We know that they are a reliable
partner...and we will respect their demands regarding...some
Israel says the blockade on Gaza, which was eased in June,
is aimed at preventing the territory's Hamas rulers from
bolstering their weapons stockpile. It also aggravates the
privations of 1.7 million Palestinians in Gaza, many of whom
depend on UN aid.