Piles of rubble: Gazans rebuild following Israel ceasefire


Thousands of home owners and businessmen in the Gaza Strip are hoping to rebuild houses, shops and factories which were reduced to piles of rubble during eight days of Israeli air raids.

Forty-eight hours after a ceasefire came into effect, and despite torrential rains, many ruined buildings were still smoldering when Hamas official Dr. Mahmoud Zahar toured bomb sites in the Zeitoun neighborhood of Gaza City.

One of the biggest obstacles will be finding construction materials as Israel bans the import of gravel, steel and cement to the territory.

In recent years building supplies have been smuggled into Gaza from neighboring Egypt through dozens of tunnels, but Israel’s air force has inflicted heavy damage on these.

Residents along the border say smugglers and tunnel owners are still inspecting the damage to their businesses but it appears that many are still in operation.

As part of the ceasefire agreement Israel wants the Egyptian government to put a stop to smuggling operations.

A strict blockade was imposed on Gaza in 2007 after the militant Hamas group wrestled power off the hands of the government of Western-backed Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

While the blockade was eased in 2010, the restrictions on the construction material remained.

Only UN agencies and international bodies in Gaza are allowed to import such material from Israel for their own projects.

1.1 of Gaza’s 1.6 million residents are registered as refugees and depend on assistance from UN agencies.

Mohammed Falah Azzam has been through this before.

His family home was bombed in the 2008-2009 Israeli war on Gaza that left hundreds killed and thousands of homes destroyed.

Last week an entire bloc of buildings housing his extended family was badly damaged in an airstrike that Israel said was targeting a militant.

None of his family members were killed in the strike, but now he has to worry about providing shelter for his extended family.

Azzam finds himself caught again in a web of paper work to claim assistance to rebuild his home and secure construction materials.

Only this time, he and hundreds of others like him hope the prospect of opening the borders with Israel and allowing construction material through, along with Hamas' new found political clout regionally, can help speed up the process.

Just a block away, Ayman el-Kholi’s two-story building also collapsed under Israeli strikes, which were also said to be targeting militants.

No one was harmed. The 41-year old baker has sent his six children to stay with relatives and he is staying with a friend.

El-Kholi said Hamas government representatives and fighters visited him and promised compensation.

The Hamas government says the preliminary estimation put the cost of this war at 750 million US dollars.

This pales compared to the estimated 2.5 billion US dollars’ worth of damage in the 2008-2009 war.

Israel promised to ease the blockade as part of a cease-fire last week that ended eight days of intense fighting but difficult negotiations lie ahead and there is no firm timeline for lifting the restrictions.