Margot Wallström and John Kerry are at the Cairo donor meeting discussing how to rebuild Gaza. Photo: Cecilia Uddén/SR/TT

Wallström: “Palestinians greet us as heroes”

Foreign minister Margot Wallström attended a Gaza donor meeting in Cairo Sunday and told media that Sweden’s decision to recognise the state of Palestine has been welcomed there.

Wallström is one of several international politicians attending the Cairo meeting where ministers and representatives from around 50 countries have gathered to discuss how to rebuild Gaza following this summer’s 50-day conflict between Hamas and Israel.

This is Wallström’s first trip outside the EU as foreign minister and it marks the first time that she addresses world leaders to talk about the new Swedish government’s decision to recognise the state of Palestine.

Speaking to Swedish tabloid Expressen, Wallström said: “We are placed in a category of heroes here and our decision has been very, very positively received by the Palestinians.”

The Palestinian Authority is appealing for a total SEK 29 billion ($4 billion) to rebuild Gaza.

Wallström said: “We do not want to see the situation repeated with a new humanitarian war. We hope that both parties will make an effort to maintain peace and that we won’t have to experience again the killing and massive destruction that have taken place in Gaza.”

Wallström told Swedish Radio News: "I hope this conference will send a signal that the international community wants to help rebuild Gaza, that it is absolutely necessary. The massive destruction that exists there - it is impossible to live there. I begin my speech by saying that a six-year-old girl in Gaza has already experienced three wars."

The Cairo meeting marks the third time in six years that Gaza is to be rebuilt and a great deal of cynicism was expressed there on Sunday, Swedish Radio News’ correspondent reported.

“The needs are enormous, with 100,000 Gaza residents now homeless and 450,000 lacking access to running water,” correspondent Cecilia Uddén reported from Cairo.

Uddén added: “Resignation, cynicism and what has been labelled ‘donor fatigue’ dominate within the international community and when US Secretary of State John Kerry addressed the meeting, he once again stated that he does not believe anyone in the room wants to return here in a year or two in order, once again, to rebuild Gaza. But Kerry said that avoiding such a scenario will require a more sustainable solution than a ceasefire.”

"The people of Gaza do need our help desperately, not tomorrow, not next week, but they need it now,” Kerry said in Cairo.

Sweden already donates around SEK 700 million to Gaza annually, according to Expressen, and Wallström said that the Swedish government has pledged an additional SEK 70 million this year.

Wallström told Expressen “Our contribution also happens in the political sphere by saying that we plan to recognise the Palestinian state. That is why we are placed in a category of heroes here.” She continued: “They are very pleased and hope this will inspire others. One also believes it is courageous of us to lead the way and so have been very well received.”

Asked if there have been any negative reactions, Wallström said: “Not really. Of course there are those who criticise it, but then it’s the principle that they oppose and the criticism is not directed at Sweden.”

Speaking to Swedish Radio News, Wallström said Sweden stands by the EU's position that Hamas is a terrorist organisation and said "we will not cooperate directly with them".

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton also attended the Cairo donor meeting Sunday, which was hosted by Egyptian president Abdul-Fattah al-Sisi.

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