CAIRO, EGYPT (AP) -- Donations to Hurricane Katrina relief poured in from around the world Sunday, with Kuwait offering $500 million and other Mideast countries offering aid and condolences despite widespread opposition to U.S. policies in the area.
The European Union and NATO also stepped up to provide aid following rare requests for help from Washington, while the 22-member Arab League urged countries across the Middle East to "extend aid to the United States to face the exceptional humane circumstances."
Spain, Belgium, Britain, Germany and Italy announced they had started or were about to send aid and experts to the U.S. to help with the logistical operation of getting help to hurricane survivors. Britain's Ministry of Defense said Sunday the government would send 500,000 ration packs. Germany and Italy sent flights of supplies, including food rations, bed supplies, inflatable dinghies and water purifiers.
The $500 million offer by Kuwait -- which owes its 1991 liberation from seven months of occupation by Saddam Hussein's Iraqi army to a U.S.-led coalition -- is the largest to date, surpassing the $100 million pledged by Qatar, another U.S. ally in the Mideast. "It's our duty as Kuwaitis to stand by our friends to lighten the humanitarian misery and as a pay back for the many situations during which Washington helped us through," Kuwait's energy minister, Sheik Ahmed Fahd Al Ahmed Al Sabah, said in a statement.
Kuwait's offer includes $400 million in oil products and $100 million in humanitarian relief, Al Sabah's spokesman told The Associated Press. Another close U.S. ally, the United Arab Emirates, is sending tents, clothing, food and other aid.
The United States enjoys close relations with most Gulf states, particularly Kuwait, which was a launch pad for the 2003 invasion of Iraq that toppled Saddam, and Qatar, a base for the U.S. military in the war's initial stages.
Bitter U.S. foes Iran and North Korea -- which Washington pressured over their respective nuclear programs -- offered to help rescue efforts, and Syria -- another longtime opponent -- was among numerous Middle Eastern states offering condolences. And Arab League chief Amr Moussa said the Arab world should support the United States, which "always expresses solidarity with nations that face natural catastrophes and extends most of the aid they receive."
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a longtime opponent of the Bush administration, said Sunday he had offered 1 million barrels of gasoline and $5 million, but criticized the U.S. government for failing to evacuate the victims before disaster struck. "The rich were able to leave, by their own means. It was the poor that remained there," the leftist leader said on his weekly television and radio show.
The United Nations said Sunday the U.S. had accepted its offer of U.N. assistance and expertise. "A small U.N. coordination team is in Washington now consulting with government officials on how best the U.N. can complement the United States' own emergency efforts," said a statement from the U.N. spokesman.
The Paris-based International Energy Agency has also said its 26-member nations would release the equivalent of 2 million barrels of oil per day from strategic reserves.