April 13, 2014 2:00 am JST

Japan, Gulf nations launching Palestine aid project

TOKYO -- Japan will launch a program to provide economic assistance to Palestine in cooperation with Islamic countries.     

     Tokyo will set up a trust fund at Islamic Development Bank, based in Saudi Arabia, and implement projects with money raised in Japan and from oil-producing countries in the Persian Gulf.

     As a first step, Japan and the Gulf countries are expected to supply about 5 billion yen ($48.8 million) to the fund. The money will be used to finance projects selected by the Japan International Cooperation Agency to promote economic development in Palestine. JICA plans to send staff to Saudi Arabia to help oversee the fund.

     The first project, to start in fiscal 2014, will be to construct solar power facilities in the Gaza Strip and other areas for several billions of yen. The equipment will be installed in such places as hospitals, schools and housing facilities. Currently, Palestine purchases electricity from Israel at relatively high prices. The project will help it diversify its power supply.

     Aid to Gaza -- which is effectively governed by Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas -- from neighboring Islamic countries does not always reach the intended recipients because the territory's border is controlled by Israel. Only a few Gulf countries have directly supported Palestine so far.

     Because Japan is a neutral player in the conflict between Tel Aviv and Palestine, it is easier to serve as facilitator for projects in the area. Tokyo hopes the initiative will help promote peace in the Middle East. The program may also provide business opportunities for Japanese companies, such as in developing solar power facilities.

     Additionally, Tokyo will launch an initiative to introduce Southeast Asian know-how to Palestine. Japan will help introduce, for example, Malaysia's expertise on Islamic bonds, Thailand's knowledge about tourism and Indonesia's agricultural techniques.