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British Prime Minister Vows Additional Aid for Palestinians

British Prime Minister John Major has vowed to increase business ties with Israel and to pump additional aid into the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority.

Major pledged support for the peace partners during a visit to the region this week.

During a visit to Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat’s headquarters in Gaza City on Tuesday, Major pledged $11 million to the Palestinians.

Of the total aid pledged, $3 million would be designated for U.N. relief efforts in the self-rule areas and $8 million for Palestinian infrastructure and training projects, he said.

Major was the second head of state to visit Gaza since Palestinian self-rule was launched last May. Turkish Prime Minister Tansu Ciller visited in November.

His visit to Israel marked only the second by a British head of state. Margaret Thatcher toured the country in 1986.

Major’s pledge brought total British aid to the Palestinians to $130 million for 1994 to 1997. In addition, Major said Britain would give 50 jeeps and minibuses to the Palestinian police.

Major changed his planned tour of Gaza after a Palestinian security guard accidentally shot and killed a 10-year-old in the Shati refuge camp. According to witnesses, the accident occurred when the guard, a member of Arafat’s personal security unit, was trying to move a group of children away from his jeep.

He was scheduled to visit Jordan on Tuesday.

While visiting Israel earlier in the week, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres had urged Major to provide financial support to the Palestinians.

“We did not ask for any financial support for Israel. We asked for financial support for the peace process,” Peres told reporters after a half-hour meeting with Major.

The British prime minister later said he would consider Israel’s request to help fund a group of industrial parks planned as an Israeli-Palestinian joint venture in Gaza and the West Bank.

During his stay, Major also addressed Israeli security concerns, which have been heightened in the wake of a series of terror attacks launched by Islamic fundamentalist groups opposed to the peace process.

“There is one thing that remains key for Israel, and understandably so: the question of security,” he said at a news conference in Jerusalem. “I think no one will protest the importance of that.”

On Monday, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin took Major on a helicopter tour of the Golan Heights and the Israeli-Lebanese border.

Major told the reporters during the tour that “it is clear” that the Golan will be handed back to Syria “providing there is an agreement that satisfies Israel’s security.”

Major’s visit coincided with the latest visit to the region by U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher, who was attempting to re-start the long-stalled Israeli-Syrian peace negotiations.

While in Jerusalem, Major also visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial.

Although Major devoted much of his time to the peace process during his visit, business concerns were also on his agenda.

Underscoring his desire to improve the Israeli-British business relationship, Major’s entourage included 29 business leaders who met with 50 Israeli counterparts.

“We are keen to invest, and we are happy to accept Israeli investment in the United Kingdom,” Major said on Monday.

Israel’s total annual exports to Britain stand at about $500 million dollars, compared with total imports of about $1.2 billion.

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