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Rebuilding Gaza May Take 20 Years      08/30 11:33

   JERUSALEM (AP) -- An international organization involved in assessing 
post-conflict reconstruction says it will take 20 years under current levels of 
restrictions to rebuild the Gaza Strip's battered and neglected housing stock 
following the war between Hamas and Israel.

   Most of the new building would be to make up for the current housing 
deficit, rather than to address damage from fighting between Israel and 
Palestinian militants.

   The assessment by Shelter Cluster, chaired by the Norwegian Refugee Council 
with the participation of the U.N. refugee agency and the Red Cross, 
underscores the complexities involved in an overall reconstruction program for 
the Gaza Strip, which some Palestinian officials have estimated could cost in 
excess of $6 billion.

   It is based on the current level of goods permitted to be moved from Israel 
to Gaza --- a level that could easily be expanded, which would shorten the time 
needed to address the territory's housing needs.

   Any effort to rebuild Gaza will be hindered by a blockade imposed by Egypt 
and Israel since the Islamic militant group Hamas seized power in 2007. Israel 
has severely restricted the import of concrete and other building materials 
into Gaza, fearing that militants will use them to build rockets and reinforce 
cross-border attack tunnels.

   Egypt and Norway have raised the possibility of convening a Gaza donors' 
conference at some point next month, but no firm arrangements have been made.

   With a population of 1.8 million, Gaza is a densely populated coastal strip 
of urban warrens and agricultural land that still bears the scars of previous 
rounds of fighting.

   In its report issued late Friday, Shelter Cluster said 17,000 Gaza housing 
units were destroyed or severely damaged during this summer's war and 5,000 
units still need work after damage sustained in the previous military 
campaigns. In addition, it says, Gaza has a housing deficit of 75,000 units.

   Shelter Cluster said its 20-year assessment is based on the capacity of the 
main Israel-Gaza cargo crossing to handle 100 trucks of construction materials 

   There was no immediate comment from the Israeli government agency 
responsible for operating the crossing on whether it had future plans to ease 
restrictions on goods going into Gaza.

   Israel and Hamas agreed on Tuesday to an open-ended truce. The cease-fire 
brought an immediate end to the fighting but left key issues unresolved. Hamas 
immediately declared victory, even though it has very little to show for the 

   While Israel agreed to loosen its long-standing blockade to allow 
humanitarian aid and reconstruction materials into Gaza, many of the border 
restrictions will remain in place. Hamas, meanwhile, rejected Israel's demands 
that it disarm.

   These deeper matters are only to be addressed in indirect talks in Egypt 
next month.

   Mindful of Israel's concerns about Hamas, Britain, France and Germany have 
proposed the creation of an international mechanism to monitor goods going into 
Gaza. The goal of the mechanism would be insure that Hamas and other militant 
groups would not divert construction materials like iron and cement into 
weapons or weapons manufacturing facilities.

   The latest war began after three Israeli teens were killed in the West Bank 
by Hamas operatives in June, prompting Israel to arrest hundreds of Hamas 
members there. Rocket fire from Gaza on Israeli cities then escalated, and 
Israel launched a massive air and later ground campaign. The fighting lasted 
almost two months.

   Egyptian mediators tried early on to get the sides to agree to a cease-fire. 
Several temporary truces were broken by Gaza militants.

   Over 2,100 Palestinians, most civilians, died in the war. Israel lost 71 
people, all but six of them soldiers.


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