JERUSALEM, Aug 30, (Agencies): An international organization involved in assessing post-conflict reconstruction says it will take 20 years under current levels of restrictions to rebuild the Gaza Strip’s battered and neglected housing stock following the war between Hamas and Israel. Most of the new building would be to make up for the current housing deficit, rather than to address damage from fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants.
Meanwhile, appearing in a round of post-war interviews on Israeli TV channels, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was not ready to return to the negotiating table with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas unless he distances himself from Hamas militants. Hamas and Abbas’ Palestinian Authority have a unity government in Gaza. Netanyahu has regularly condemned the formal Abbas-Hamas relationship.
The housing assessment by Shelter Cluster, chaired by the Norwegian Refugee Council with the participation of the UN refugee agency and the Red Cross, underscores the complexities involved in an overall reconstruction program for the Gaza Strip, which some Palestinian officials have estimated could cost in excess of $6 billion. It is based on the current level of goods permitted to be moved from Israel to Gaza — a level that could easily be expanded, which would shorten the time needed to address the territory’s housing needs.
Any effort to rebuild Gaza will be hindered by a blockade imposed by Egypt and Israel since the Islamic militant group Hamas seized power in 2007. Israel has severely restricted the import of concrete and other building materials into Gaza, fearing that militants will use them to build rockets and reinforce cross-border attack tunnels.
Egypt and Norway have raised the possibility of convening a Gaza donors’ conference at some point next month, but no firm arrangements have been made. With a population of 1.8 million, Gaza is a densely populated coastal strip of urban warrens and agricultural land that still bears the scars of previous rounds of fighting.