Gaza still waiting for help to rise from the rubble

2 Oct

iMtkLvZa7_usBuildings destroyed by IDF airstrikes in the Sabra neighborhood of Gaza.

By Saud Abu Ramadan and Jonathan Ferziger, businessweek.com 1 October, 2014

A mountain of concrete rubble and twisted girders blocks the downtown intersection where Israeli F-16 fighter jets struck Gaza City a month ago, toppling the 13-story Al-Basha office tower.

Across town, Mosa Abuaser’s family sleeps in a dusty white tent planted amid the wreckage of their three-story home in the Shuja’iya neighborhood that was pummeled during some of the heaviest fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants. The father of five is scavenging supplies to build a makeshift structure that will allow his family to leave the tent.

“We’re sick of sleeping in the street,” he said.

Palestinians are seeking $4 billion in aid to rebuild Gaza after 50 days of military conflict, the deadliest of three wars with Israel since 2008. The enormity of the devastation and the loss of a smuggling route from Egypt are putting pressure on Hamas to cede some control to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, something it resisted for seven years, as a necessary step for international aid to reach Gaza.

Hamas and Abbas’ Fatah group signed an agreement in Cairo on Sept. 25 to allow their unity government to operate in the Gaza Strip. The partnership between the two groups, which fought each other in Gaza in 2007, should be fully functional by an Oct. 12 donors conference in Cairo, Fatah said.

“Hamas had to back down because there was no way that Gaza would get the money needed for rebuilding if they remained in charge, and people were absolutely furious about the extent of the destruction,” Mukhemer Abu Sada, an Al-Azhar University political scientist in Gaza City, said in an interview.

More Money

Thousands of homes and other buildings were damaged or destroyed in the fighting, which killed more than 2,100 Palestinians and 70 Israelis before an Aug. 26 cease-fire. Hamas and other Gaza militants have fired some 11,000 rockets and mortars at Israel since 2005, according to Israeli army data.

Abbas has asked donors for an initial $623 million and $4 billion over the next two years, a figure leaders say could triple before the work is completed in a decade. Since the violent rupture of their joint government in 2007, the Islamist Hamas has ruled Gaza while Abbas’s more secular Fatah has held sway in the West Bank.

Because Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the U.S. and European Union, restoring Abbas’s foothold in Gaza as head of the Palestinian Authority is crucial to delivering international aid.

Egypt Tunnels

“Until it’s clear that Fatah and Hamas are working together on the ground, nothing’s going to happen,” said Omer Shaban, a Gaza-based economist. “The donors won’t provide the cash as long as the internal Palestinian feuds continue.”

If the militant group repaired destruction from previous Israeli offensives by smuggling in materials from Egypt, that avenue no longer exists. Egypt’s military destroyed or blocked hundreds of the underground passages last year after ousting Hamas’s ally, Islamist President Mohamed Mursi.

 

The accord last week in Cairo built on a reconciliation pact the two groups reached in April, as Abbas’s U.S.-led peace talks with Israel were breaking down. The agreement led to the formation of a Hamas-backed government, though it didn’t loosen the group’s grip on Gaza or eliminate disputes with Abbas, who accused his former rivals of dragging the Palestinians into an unnecessary war with Israel.

Gaza Barred

Even with the unity agreements, Hamas still won’t admit Palestinian Authority cabinet members into Gaza. A key reason is Abbas’s failure to find a means for paying Hamas security forces and other civil servants who haven’t received salaries in months.

“We need to be in Gaza, but the situation doesn’t permit it now and we hope to overcome the obstacles soon,” Abbas’s foreign minister, Riad Malki, said today at a news conference in Ramallah.

President Barack Obama, meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House today, said the two would “discuss extensively both the situation of rebuilding Gaza but also how can we find a more sustainable peace between Israelis and Palestinians.” It was the first encounter for the two leaders since the Gaza conflict and the failed peace talks shepherded by Secretary of State John Kerry.

 

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