TEL AVIV (dpa) – Foreign ministers are to gather in Cairo on Sunday for a donors conference to help reconstruct the Gaza Strip, devastated by 50 days of conflict with Israel. The Palestinian Authority hopes it will yield 4 billion US dollars.
More than 2,100 Palestinians and 70 Israelis were killed in the cross-border attacks that ended with an August 26 truce.
Israel bombed and shelled more than 5,000 targets across the Gaza Strip and Palestinian militants launched over 4,000 rockets at Israel.
Whole neighbourhoods were flattened in Gaza – especially in areas of heavy fighting, in the east of the Strip near the border with Israel.
The fighting ended with all major issues unsolved. A full lifting of restrictions placed on Gaza regarding the movement of goods and people are the key – but so far unmet – demands of Hamas, the movement in control of Gaza.
Cairo-led indirect talks on a long-term, comprehensive truce started September 23, but are to resume only after the Jewish and Muslim holidays.
In a 72-page report published ahead of the conference, the Palestinian Authority says Israel dropped an estimated 20,000 tons of explosives on Gaza, causing destruction several times worse than that of a previous Gaza offensive in early 2009.
Some 2.5 million tons of rubble need to be removed, it said. Some 20,000 homes were destroyed and another 40,000 damaged, according to the report. Just to rebuild and repair those, and to help out more than 100,000 homeless Palestinians with temporary housing and rent subsidies, will cost more than one billion dollars, it said.
Much more is needed to repair government buildings, schools, clinics, roads, power lines and agricultural land. Money is also needed to give psychological support to nearly 400,000 traumatised children.
But this will not be possible without Israel and Egypt lifting tight limits on the movement of goods and people through their border crossings with Gaza.
Without a lifting of the blockade and a stable truce, donors will be hesitant to take out their wallets, analysts say. Gisha, a Tel Aviv-based NGO that advocates freedom of movement and monitors restrictions on Gaza, said the border crossings have largely returned to the status quo before the military operation.
The opening of Israel’s goods crossing at Kerem Shalom is back to normal, more merchants – 200 a day – are allowed to exit Gaza, and more agricultural produce and fish are exported to the West Bank. Israel issued permits to 1,000 Gazans to visit, via its territory, the West Bank and Jerusalem’s Aqsa mosque for the Eid al-Adha holiday.
And while trucks with cement and gravel for aid organizations have begun entering the Strip, the amounts are “a fraction of what is needed,” Gisha said.
Egypt is allowing several hundred Palestinians a day to leave Gaza via its border crossing of Rafah, Gisha said. But only dual citizenship and foreign passport holders, injured people and other urgent medical cases – and far fewer than needed.
As winter approaches, Gazans are living in partially destroyed homes, sometimes under makeshift tin or asbestos roofs. Others are crowding with relatives. And still others are renting alternative apartments, with whatever reserves or subsidies running out.