Hope among the ruins: Gaza looks to post-war aid to rebuild

Hope among the ruins: Gaza looks to post-war aid to rebuild

GAZA - Reconstruction in Gaza, where heavy Israeli bombardment in a war with Islamist militants has caused widespread devastation and displaced half a million people, will cost at least US$6 billion (S$7.5 billion), the Palestinian deputy prime minister says.

This time, Mohammed Mustafa said, Palestinians hope future donors will make good on aid pledges. In 2009, only a fraction of the nearly $5 billion in funds promised at an international conference after a three-week war between Israel and Gaza's ruling Hamas actually arrived in the battered enclave.

"Once a ceasefire is reached, we will have to tackle the immediate problem of rehousing those who lost their homes," Mustafa told Reuters.

"According to our estimates, they may number 400,000 people." The West Bank-based government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has already been in touch with the United States, the European Union, Arab states and the World Bank to hold a donors' summit after the guns fall silent, Mustafa said.

Qatar, a major ally of the Islamist Hamas might contribute generously to a rebuilding effort. Last year, the wealthy Gulf Arab state began executing construction projects in the Gaza Strip at the cost of more than US$400 million.

Contacted by Reuters in Doha, a Qatari official said his country would be ready to provide money for humanitarian aid purposes, but not directly to Hamas itself.

The destruction in the current conflict, now in its fourth week, is more widespread than it was in 2009. Rubble - including from homes and factories that were hit by Israeli shelling and rebuilt after the fighting five years ago - is strewn in almost every street in towns, villages and refugee camps in the densely packed, sliver-like territory of 1.8 million people.

"There is a need to build 100,000 housing units," Mustafa said, adding that a Palestinian government committee has begun assessing the damage and the $6 billion figure was only an initial estimate.

Vital infrastructure must also be rebuilt.

Eighty per cent of the population has had electricity for only four hours since Gaza's only power plant was disabled by two Israeli missiles that struck fuel tanks. According to the British charity Oxfam, two-thirds of Gaza residents have been affected by damage to sewerage and water infrastructure.

Israel has accused Hamas of causing such hardships by launching rockets at its cities from thickly-populated Gaza neighbourhoods and using mosques and schools as weapons depots, drawing Israeli fire.

After the December 2008-January 2009 war, West governments'designation of Hamas as a terrorist group over its refusal to recognise Israel or renounce violence, effectively blocked donor funds.

And, citing concerns that Hamas would use reconstruction material to rebuild its military capabilities, Israel clamped severe limits on cement and steel imports into Gaza as part of a security blockade of the coastal enclave.

Those fears, Israel now says, pointing to militants'infiltration tunnels unearthed during the current conflict, were justified, and could complicate any international efforts to stream building material into Gaza.

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