International donors have pledged almost $4.5bn (€3.56bn) in aid to help the Palestinian economy and rebuilding of Gaza at a conference in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

The Palestinian Authority had hoped to raise $2.78bn in aid, including $1.33bn to rebuild Gaza after Israel's three-week military offensive in January.

About 75 delegations attended the conference, but Hamas was not invited to the meeting.

For its part Ireland has pledged pledged €2.5m to support the rebuilding efforts in Gaza.

UNRWA Director of Operations John Ging says access into the area is a priority, while UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon described the situation at the border crossings as 'intolerable'.

Aid workers do not have access. Essential commodities cannot get in, he said.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the economic aid must go hand-in-hand with efforts to reach a comprehensive peace deal with Israel.

Mrs Clinton is in Egypt on her first visit to the Middle East in her new job in the Obama administration.

The contribution from the US will include $300m for urgent humanitarian assistance for Gaza, which was devastated by Israel's three-week war in December and January and remains under a blockade.

Donors at the conference are insisting the money must be channelled through the Western-backed Palestinian Authority of president Mahmud Abbas and must not go to Gaza's Islamist rulers Hamas, boycotted as a terrorist group by Israel and the West.

President Abbas too said any economic aid was 'insufficient' without a political settlement to the decades-old Middle East conflict, with the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

He called on the international community to take urgent steps to help revive the peace talks.

Pledges announced

The US has pledged $900m, of which $300m is earmarked for Gaza. The rest will support the Palestinian Authority's economic reforms and budget shortfalls.

The EU Commission pledged €440m for the reconstruction of Gaza and Palestinian Authority reforms.

Gulf Arab countries pledged $1.65bn, including $1bn from Saudi Arabia, $250m from Qatar, $174m from the United Arab Emirates, and $23m from Bahrain. All Gulf Arab contributions would go through a programme announced in the Saudi capital Riyadh on Sunday.

Japan pledged $200m, Italy pledged $100m, Turkey pledged $50m in addition to $43m raised from private donations, Brazil pledged $10 million and Lebanon has pledged $1m.