Group says rebuilding Gaza Strip could take 20 years

Associated Press Published:

JERUSALEM -- 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 U.N. 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.

In its report issued late Friday, Shelter Cluster said 17,000 Gaza housing units were destroyed or severely damaged during this summer's war and 5,000 units still need work after damage sustained in the previous military campaigns. In addition, it says, Gaza has a housing deficit of 75,000 units.

Shelter Cluster said its 20-year assessment is based on the capacity of the main Israel-Gaza cargo crossing to handle 100 trucks of construction materials daily.

There was no immediate comment from the Israeli government agency responsible for operating the crossing on whether it had future plans to ease restrictions on goods going into Gaza.

Israel and Hamas agreed on Tuesday to an open-ended truce. The cease-fire brought an immediate end to the fighting but left key issues unresolved. Hamas immediately declared victory, even though it has very little to show for the war. Over 2,100 Palestinians, most civilians, died in the war. Israel lost 71 people, all but six of them soldiers.

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