Gaza cease-fire raises hopes for reconstruction

By Sarah El Deeb

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Nov. 25 2012 12:31 p.m. MST

An Egyptian security official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media, estimated that half the tunnels are not functioning.

With a sullied face and wearing only his undergarments, Azzam gave up his search for valuables in the rubble of his destroyed home on a recent day. He sat down to take a break and do some math.

His mother's house was destroyed by an Israeli airstrike in 2009. Since then, he has barely managed to rebuild one of its two floors. A $25,000 grant he received from an Arab fund did not cover the costs, and materials for the project have been hard to come by.

The Hamas government has given him $1,000 to find a place to live for now, and each member of the extended family received a similar amount. With housing in tight supply and rents skyrocketing, Azzam said the money will not last long.

"As we look there are no places to begin with," he said. "If we find a place, rent will be around $300 or $400. Before it was $200."

Yasser al-Shanti, deputy of the ministry of public works and housing in the Hamas government, said construction materials will start flowing into Gaza again once the tunnels are up and running again.

But Hamas' real hope is that Israel and Egypt will lift border restrictions to allow large quantities of goods into the territory through proper border crossings. Hamas has high hopes for Egypt's new Islamist government, which is far more sympathetic to the Islamic group than the ousted regime of Hosni Mubarak.

The Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt is currently limited to foot traffic. Hamas, an offshoot of Egypt's ruling Muslim Brotherhood, wants Egypt to turn the crossing into a bustling cargo terminal.

"We expect that international and Arab institutions are ready to help. We don't expect to have a problem," al-Shanti said.

Hamas has put the damage to Gaza's civilian infrastructure at roughly $750 million, a sum that will probably have to be raised through special U.N. emergency appeals and donations from wealthy Arab countries.

The future of the crossing will be a central issue in indirect, Egyptian-brokered negotiations between Israel and Hamas. Under the cease-fire, Israel made a vague commitment to ease its closing of Gaza. But the details must be negotiated.

With Hamas rejecting Israel's key demand — that arms smuggling into Gaza be halted — it remains far from certain whether Hamas will get what it wants. Egypt also has not been clear how far it is willing to open its border, fearing that this will allow Israel to "dump" Gaza on Egypt and undermine hopes for reconciliation between Hamas and Abbas' rival government in the West Bank.

Ayman el-Kholi, whose two-story home was destroyed in an Israeli airstrike aimed at militants, said Hamas government representatives and fighters, including Hamas strongman Mahmoud Zahar, visited him and promised compensation.

"They promised that after things calm down, they will begin to reconstruct all homes destroyed and not just ours," he said.

In the meantime, the 41-year-old banker has sent his six children to sleep at various relatives' homes, and he is staying with a friend. The rubble from the destroyed building was still in a heap on Sunday as he waited for the only government tractor to come remove it.

The entire block was damaged by airstrike. Shops were buried and a nearby workshop for electrical appliances was severely damaged.

"We don't save in banks. All my money was in the house. All of it is now under the rubble, around $10,000 plus my wife's gold," el-Kholi said. "We are waiting for an opening of the crossing. We are waiting for donor countries, from Arab countries, to help us rebuild the house again."

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