One week after the Palestinian election result, Fritz Froehlich of the Swiss Cooperation Office in Gaza tells swissinfo it is business as usual for its aid projects.This content was published on February 3, 2006 - 07:44
Although the Swiss foreign ministry has given assurances that its aid programme will not be affected by Hamas's victory, other major international donors are threatening to withdraw funding.
The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) in Gaza and the West Bank has a budget this year of SFr25 million ($19 million), which is administered by its local office.
The 12-year Swiss presence in Gaza dates from the peace-building aftermath of the Oslo accords. Froehlich, who is deputy head of the Swiss Cooperation Office, says he is confident that the SDC's work will continue.
swissinfo: What has the atmosphere been like in the past week since the election results?
Fritz Froehlich: I think life on the streets has changed in Gaza and the West Bank. Firstly, because of the election results and the expectations that go with them. And secondly, because of the international reaction and the conditions which are being set at the moment – the threat that international funding might be withheld from the Palestinian Authority.
swissinfo: Does this make ordinary people nervous?
F.F.: It's something people talk about. People would like to see reform and they would also like to see the continuation of services.
The elections have produced a new vision for people but this has not been transformed into a new government for the time being.
swissinfo: Protests have taken place across the Islamic world after caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed were published in European newspapers. How have Palestinians reacted?
F.F.: It's been a big theme on the street over the past three days even though the original publication dates back to September last year.
It has provoked uproar among the population of Gaza and the West Bank as well as some of the militant groups, specifically in the Gaza Strip where they protested in front of the European Commission office.
swissinfo: Do the current conditions make it difficult for you to operate your projects and achieve your goals?
F.F.: For the time being we have no problems moving between Gaza and the West Bank, apart from occasional restrictions. We've had contact with most of our partners during the past week. Everybody is basically optimistic that work will continue.
We also know that our work will continue because most of our engagement is either with Palestinian civil society or with UN agencies in the humanitarian field.
swissinfo: Do you have any concerns about dealing with Hamas members in the Palestinian Authority?
F.F.: First of all we have to wait until the formation of the new government... The Palestinian Authority is an institution which is the result of the Oslo process, so this new government would have to accept this.
In basic terms we are all here for conflict resolution and peace building. To this end we will have to see in balance how best we can utilise the assistance that comes from Switzerland and internationally.
The population of the West Bank and Gaza is 3.6 million.
Unemployment is running at 23% and at least 43% of the population lives in poverty.
Hamas won 76 seats in the 132-member parliament in last week's elections.
The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) has been present in Gaza and the West Bank since 1994. This year's budget is SFr25 million.
The SDC has numerous partners in the region. It works with Palestinian NGOs active in human rights, environmental protection and social development.
About 50% of the SDC's budget is allocated to international organisations such as the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, the United Nations Development Programme, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the World Food Programme.
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