CAIRO -- Donations to Hurricane Katrina relief efforts poured in from around the world yesterday, with Kuwait offering $500 million and other Mideast countries offering aid and condolences despite widespread opposition to US policies in the area.
But the Al Qaeda in Iraq group, led by the Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, called the devastation across the US Gulf Coast region God's retribution on America.
The European Union and NATO also stepped up to provide aid after rare requests for help from Washington. The United States asked for first-aid kits, blankets, water trucks, and 500,000 prepared meals, the EU executive Commission said, adding further needs were being identified. EU officials in Brussels said the organization would contribute.
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 specialists to the United States to help with the logistical operation of getting help to hurricane survivors.
Britain's Ministry of Defense said yesterday that 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 Bush administration has accepted a UN offer of help in the aftermath of the hurricane and a UN team has gone to Washington to see how it can complement American efforts.
The United Nations announced yesterday that the United States had accepted its aid offer and said its staff would be based at the USAID Hurricane Operations Center, where international assistance is being coordinated.
Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's president and a longtime opponent of the Bush administration, said yesterday he had offered 1 million barrels of gasoline and $5 million, but criticized the US 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.
The $500 million offer by Kuwait -- which owes its 1991 liberation from seven months of occupation by Saddam Hussein's Iraqi army to a US-led coalition -- is the largest to date, surpassing the $100 million pledged by Qatar, another US 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, Sabah's spokesman said. Another US 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 US military in the war's initial stages.
But Zarqawi's group released an Internet statement saying ''God's great wrath has hit the head of the oppressors where their dead are in thousands and their losses in billions."
Bitter US 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."