CAIRO: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged on Saturday $2.5 billion in humanitarian and development aid for the Middle East as he launched a regional tour that includes visits to Jordan and Israel.
In a speech in Cairo, Mr Abe pledged $200 million in non-military assistance for countries affected by the Islamic State (IS) group’s bloody expansion in Iraq and Syria, which spurred an exodus of refugees to neighbouring countries.
“Japan will newly carry out assistance of 2.5 billion US dollars in non-military fields including humanitarian assistance and infrastructure development, intended for the entire region,” Mr Abe said, according to an official transcript.
Speaking to Egyptian politicians and businessmen, he said Japan would “provide assistance for refugees and displaced persons from Iraq and Syria”.
“I will pledge assistance of a total of about 200 million US dollars for those countries contending with ISIL (IS), to help build their human capacities, infrastructure, and so on,” he added.
A Japanese foreign ministry official said that much of those funds would go towards assisting neighbouring states hosting refugees.
The money is included in the $2.5bn figure, she said, which includes loans to improve Egypt’s power grid.
The United Nations has warned that the number of Syrian refugees could shoot up to 4.27 million by December from the current figure of more than three million.
The Syrian conflict has killed more than 200,000 people since March 2011 and displaced around half the country’s population, with many fleeing to neighbouring Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan.
Dozens of Japanese company executives are accompanying Mr Abe on his trip. Since taking office in December 2012, he has worked to boost Japan’s profile in global affairs.
He has visited more than 50 countries including oil-rich Gulf nations — but not Japan’s neighbours China and South Korea, with which Tokyo is at odds over territory and history.
The last time a Japanese leader visited Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories was in 2006 when Junichiro Koizumi was in office.
Mr Abe was the last premier to visit Egypt during his brief first stint in the top job in 2007.
He said Japan contributed $2.2bn to the Middle East in 2012 which had “already been put into execution”.
The Japanese premier will meet Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi before departing to Jordan and then Israel and the Palestinian West Bank.
His itinerary includes a visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem.
Mr Abe urged Israel and the Palestinians to resume negotiations, after the Palestinians joined the International Criminal Court this month to seek an investigation into the war in Gaza last year.
“Japan believes that the day will come in the near future when we can recognise Palestine as a state,” he said. “In order for that day to arrive sooner, we will appeal to both Israel and Palestine to resume negotiations to advance the so-called Two-State Solution.”