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Gaza faces huge task of reconstruction
Published Tuesday 12/08/2014 (updated) 14/08/2014 12:47
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A tent is pitched in front of the destroyed Nada Towers as
Palestinians return to the area to inspect what remains of their
homes, Aug. 11, 2014, in Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip
(AFP Mahmud Hams)
GAZA CITY (AFP) -- With thousands of homes reduced to rubble and its infrastructure in ruins, Gaza's reconstruction will cost billions and require at least an easing of Israel's blockade to allow in building materials.

Cement will be key among these materials, but its import will be controversial since it has been at the heart of an underground war between Israel and militants in Gaza.

From Beit Lahiya in the north, to Rafah in the south, Israel's latest offensive has left swathes of the Gaza Strip in ruins.

Families come during brief lulls in the fighting to sift through the debris of their homes for possessions, waiting to start rebuilding their lives.

In front of his apartment -- reduced to a grey mass of dust, rubble and twisted iron -- Jamal Abed drags on a cigarette as he thumbs his prayer beads.

"They destroyed everything here, there's nothing we can do," he says.

He knows he could spend months, even years, without somewhere to live because his home will have to be completely levelled before it can be rebuilt.

But for reconstruction to start, there has to be a negotiated end to the fighting.

There also has to be cement, lots of it, and the Palestinian enclave is suffering a chronic shortage of this crucial construction material.

Israel first imposed a blockade on Gaza in summer 2006 after militants in the territory seized one of its soldiers in a cross-border tunnel attack.

It was significantly tightened a year later after the Islamist movement Hamas seized control of the enclave, with Israel imposing severe restrictions on the entry of cement, gravel and steel.

Israel said the restrictions were aimed at stopping Islamist militants from building bunkers and other fortifications.

'100 years to rebuild'

James Rawley, the UN’s resident and humanitarian coordinator has warned that failure to lift the blockade could cause more conflict in Gaza in the future.

If the measures are not removed, "not only will we see very little in the way of reconstruction, but I am afraid that the conditions are in place for us to have another round of violence like we're seeing now," he told AFP on Sunday.

In 2010, Israel eased restrictions on imports of food and construction materials after international outrage over a botched Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla trying to break the blockade left 10 Turkish activists dead.

Since Hamas took power in 2007, Israel has launched two major offensives on Gaza: the 22-day Operation Cast Lead over New Year 2009, and the eight-day Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012.

Both caused widespread devastation to the battered enclave.

Gazans have been largely able to circumvent the restrictions of the blockade by importing cement through cross-border smuggling tunnels from Egypt.

But after the Egyptian military overthrew Hamas's Islamist ally, president Mohamed Morsi, in July 2013, the new regime of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has cracked down on the tunnels, destroying over 1,600 of them and dealing a death blow to the smuggling industry.

Since then, Gaza's reconstruction has been dependent on the materials Israel has allowed in, with supplies only permitted for international construction projects.

"It would take 100 years to rebuild Gaza with the current rate of construction material being allowed in," said Sari Bashi, co-founder of Israeli NGO Gisha which campaigns for Palestinian freedom of movement and trade.

"In the years in which cement has been banned from entering Gaza, Israel did not manage to prevent tunnels from being dug," she said.

"It is a policy that is overwhelmingly harming civilians in Gaza with little to no security benefit for Israel."

Cementing the truce?

The UN estimates more than 11,800 homes have been destroyed or rendered uninhabitable, more than twice the number that were destroyed in Operation Cast Lead.

At the time, the international community pledged $4.5 billion to rebuild Gaza’s shattered infrastructure.

This time round, the Palestinians say they need up to $6 billion to fix hospitals, roads, schools, water facilities and factories hit by shelling and bombing.

Mahir al-Tabaa, head of Gaza's chamber of industry and commerce, says that "more than 350 industrial buildings" have been destroyed in the fighting, including 50 key factories.

But the conflict which began on July 8 is not yet over.

The warring sides have both agreed to hold their fire for three days to allow Israeli and Palestinian negotiators to meet in Cairo for talks on a more durable end to the fighting.

The issue of cement is set to be one of the key challenges for the two sides as they struggle to reach an agreement.

Israeli officials have recognized the importance of rebuilding Gaza but they do not want to lift the blockade -- the main demand of the Palestinians.

"There will be no agreement without the blockade being lifted, without cement entering Gaza," said Daifallah al-Akhras, a senior Palestinian official.

"How do you expect us to rebuild without cement?"
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1 ) Basho / Japan
12/08/2014 16:28
Allotting the cement to military purposes at the expense of Gazan civilian needs, was part of Hamas' concept of giving priority to rebuilding and upgrading its military capabilities. Khaled Mashaal, admitted as much at an Arab conference held in Damascus. In November 2009 he said that, "Outwardly the visible picture is talks about reconciliation...and construction; however, the hidden picture is that most of the money and effort is invested in the resistance and military preparations''.

2 ) Mel / USA
12/08/2014 16:45
The 1st material for Palestinian reconstruction is total FREEDOM from Israeli military occupation.Until then,whatever U bring in to rebuild homes & lives(donated or bought)will be bombed,missiled,shelled(courtesy of USG funds&support 4 Zionism)AGAIN,by Israeli occupation of both Gaza(land,sea,air,economy)&shrinking,occupied WB('Jews-Only'expansion).Routine Israeli BOMBING of REFUGEE/POW CAMP Gaza MUST STOP,PERMANENTLY! CONCRETE FREEDOM FIRST,then rebuild Palestine, to STAY! Concrete freedom!

3 ) JoeFattal / USA
12/08/2014 16:56
But another round of violence is what Israel wants. A peacefull Gaza and a Palestinian State is what Israel doesn't want. How in the hell they going to survive, or better off how in the hell they going to get that much financial aids from the US if they are at peace with their neighbors. That's Israel way of life. They have a very well-off sponsor. Or better off a very rich sugar daddy.

4 ) Rich Sugar Daddy / USA
12/08/2014 21:10
@Joe, I am a US taxpayer. Here are the facts: Israel gets about $3 billion annually from the US, almost all for spending with US weapons manufacturers, employing US workers. Egypt and Jordan receive over $3 billion in total, so Arabs get as much or more from US as does Israel. As a US taxpayer, only 1 cent of every $10.00 of my taxes goes to Israel, and another cent to Egypt and Jordan. Israel's economy (GNP) is about $300 billion, so US aid to Israel represents only 1% of Israel's economy.

5 ) Gaza Resident / Palestine
13/08/2014 15:30
#4 How much of your tax dollars go in military aid to Palestine?

6 ) David / USA
13/08/2014 22:00
JoeFattal, you sound like an idiot. "another round of violence is what Israel wants." I have news for you- every member of the IDF would rather be home or at work or on the beach. Not one single soldier or officer wants to be involved in Gaza. If only Hamas would be peaceful, Gaza would be left to itself, no blockade, but it has proved itself to be untrustworthy on every occasion. Rockets? Mortars? Snipers? Tunnels? Hamas is just a bunch of criminal terrorists who need to be jailed for life.
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