Minister of Finance and National Economy Dr. Ibrahim Al-Assaf said today that the Saudi government has to date given a total of SR 8.9 billion [U.S. $2.37 billion] in aid to the government and people of Palestine. Dr. Al-Assaf, speaking at a press conference in Riyadh, reiterated the Kingdom's staunch support of the Palestinian intifada [uprising], and declared that assistance to the Palestinian people, a firm Saudi policy ever since the days of King Abdulaziz, has been translated into unlimited initiatives in various political, economic and social areas and at various local, regional and international levels. He referred in particular to the sum of SR 2.2 billion [$585.89 million] since Madrid, that includes the Kingdom's donation of $300 million as announced at the international conferences for the support of the Palestinian Authority. This assistance, he explained, is disbursed by the Saudi Development Fund (SDF), partly for SDF projects but also to support the Palestinian budget.
Dr. Al-Assaf said that the emergency Arab Summit in Cairo in October 2000 accepted a proposal made by Deputy Prime Minister and Commander of the National Guard Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdulaziz concerning the establishment of a fund for the intifada. This fund has resources of $200 million, with the Kingdom's share standing at $50 million, and targets the families of victims of the intifada, specifically to educate the sons of victims and rehabilitate the injured. Dr. Al-Assaf added that the Crown Prince's second proposal, to establish a fund for Al-Aqsa, with resources of $800 million in which the Kingdom's share is $200 million, is dedicated to finance projects that would protect the Arab and Islamic identity of Al-Quds [Jerusalem].
Assistance to the Palestinians, the Finance Minister went on to say, includes supporting the Palestinian Red Crescent Association, providing equipment for hospitals and medical institutions, and rebuilding damaged houses. Aid also goes to students at Palestinian universities, and to a number of development projects in Palestine.
Dr. Al-Assaf noted that the supervising authority of the two funds decided recently to respond to a request from the Palestinian Authority for an interest-free loan of $60 million and a grant of $10 million for the Palestinian Ministry of Health. Saudi financial support for the Palestinians during their latest ordeal, he said, includes grants of $30 million to the Palestinian Authority, plus another $10 million in February 2001. This is in addition to medicine valued at millions of dollars. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia sent medical aircraft to transport 105 injured Palestinians for treatment in the Kingdom's hospitals.
In addition to this government support, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Fahd bin Abdulaziz initiated a fund for private donations in support of the Palestinians' struggle. The Saudi people responded unstintingly to this initiative, emanating from their feelings, as fellow Arabs and Muslims, for the fraternal ties that bind them to the people of Palestine. To date, Dr. Al-Assaf declared, cash donations have exceeded SR 240 million [$64 million]. There have also been donations in kind such as medical supplies, jewelry, real estate, and vehicles, including ambulances. Donations are still coming in to the committee, chaired by Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz, that was set up to coordinate the fundraising. This committee, Dr. Al-Assaf said, has pledged a sum of SR 20,000 [$5,333] to each family that has suffered loss of a victim. A total of SR 124 million [$33.07 million] has been transferred for this purpose, and to provide for the injured.
Saudi support for development of the Palestinian economy has also been forthcoming, including long-standing exemption from customs duties for all Palestinian products coming into the Kingdom. This economic advantage is significant in contributing to the development of the potential of the Palestinian economy.