No relief for Gaza’s homeless thousands as winter looms

20 Oct
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 Over 100,000 homeless people try to shelter among the rubble from heavy seasonal rains and widespread floods as another bitterly cold winter looms in the Gaza Strip. Hamas blasts PA for failing to begin Gaza reconstruction. (MaanImages)
 
Ma’an News Agency, Gaza, 20 October 2014.
 
The Hamas movement on Sunday urged the Palestinian Authority to facilitate the entry of construction material into the besieged Gaza Strip in order to speed up the reconstruction ahead of winter, as the first major rain of the fall season highlighted the challenges still facing tens of thousands of displaced Gazans.
“Reconstruction of Gaza is one of the most important tasks the PA should carry out according to the reconciliation agreement, but on the condition that there be no obstacles, physical or legal, to the entry of construction material,” senior Hamas official Moussa Abu Marzouq said in a statement. The statement points to growing frustration with the PA’s failure to pressure Israel to open the border into Gaza, despite two different negotiation meetings with Israeli officials where it promised to do just that.

It also underlines tension between Hamas and the Fatah-dominated PA despite working together in a technocratic government of national reconciliation, as Hamas has in recent days accused PA security forces of cracking down on members and attacking rallies.

Abu Marzouq reiterated in the statement that Hamas had no problem with the PA coming into Gaza and carrying out reconstruction, expressing frustration that the unity government was failing to fulfill its duties.

“Hamas has questions about several issues which are the duties and responsibilities of the national consensus government,” he added, stressing that these responsibilities included the salaries of Gaza civil servants, security arrangements on the border, and managing the Gaza crossings, in addition to the reconstruction process.

PA officials have repeatedly promised that they would take over the crossings between Israel and Gaza — currently staffed by Hamas, the reason given by Israel for refusing to lift the economic blockade — but have yet to take meaningful steps.

Critics have suggested that Israeli and international pressure is part of the reason for the delay, as the US has looked askance at the unity government since its formation in June and Israel has repeatedly sought to undermine it, with a massive arrest campaign in the West Bank that netted more than 600 Hamas members as well as the summer offensive that killed more than 2,200 Gazans, the vast majority civilians.

Both the US and Israel consider Hamas a terrorist organization. But as a part of the unity agreement, Hamas said it would abide by previous PLO agreements — which include non-violence and recognition of Israel — and has insisted that it has no problem with the PA asserting its rule in the Gaza Strip.

Abu Marzouq on Sunday stressed these points in his statement, highlighting the tremendous amount of reconstruction work still needed for Gaza after the Israeli destroyed thousands of homes and left around 108,000 homeless.

He estimated in the statement that reconstruction would require more than two million tons of building material, “not to mention the material needed for rehabilitation of the infrastructure which the occupation has destroyed.”

The Israeli siege on Gaza in place over the last seven years has severely limited all imports and exports, including building material.

Abu Marzouq also pointed a finger at Egypt in the statement, stressing that Egypt’s role as a sponsor in the ceasefire agreement in August that ended Israel’s 50-day assault meant it needed to play a more positive role in lifting the siege.

“Why won’t Egypt finish what it has started and allow entry of construction material through its borders?” he asked in the statement.

Egypt has long enforced the Israeli siege on Gaza from its border as well. Despite a brief respite under democratically-elected President Mohamed Morsi, the Egyptian military coup in summer 2013 led to a renewed crackdown on the Rafah crossing and a campaign to destroy the smuggling tunnels that had long provided a vital lifeline for Gaza’s 1.8 million people.

 
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