UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The top U.N. official in the Mideast said Monday that Gaza will require massive reconstruction and proposed expanding a U.N.-Israeli system to import construction materials into the Palestinian territory.
Robert Serry told the U.N. Security Council that ending the blockade of Gaza and addressing Israel's legitimate security needs have become even more urgent given "the unprecedented amount of destruction ... and the corresponding unprecedented level of humanitarian needs" suffered during the latest fighting between Israel and Hamas.
He said there are indications that "the volume of reconstruction will be about three times" what it was after the 2009 Hamas-Israel conflict.
Serry said approximately 16,800 housing units have been destroyed or severely damaged, affecting some 100,000 Palestinians. In addition, he said an estimated 108 installations belonging to the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees were damaged along with the Gaza branch of his own office.
Serry said ways must be found to get large quantities of building materials, including cement, into Gaza "in a way that fulfills Israel's security concerns."
During the latest conflict, Israel discovered and destroyed dozens of cross-border tunnels. Israel has said it is willing, in principle, to ease Gaza border restrictions — but only with safeguards that prevent weapons or goods with possible military uses, such as cement for building tunnels and bunkers, from reaching Hamas.
Hamas agreed to a power-sharing agreement in April with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Fatah faction controls the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority now controls a unity government of technocrats in both the West Bank and Gaza but Hamas' military wing still controls security in Gaza.
Serry said the U.N.-Israeli system to import construction materials has been used "for years."
"This system has demonstrably worked, prevented diversion of materials, allowed successful implementation of crucial projects, and built trust," he said. "Reconstruction of the magnitude which is now needed can only be addressed with the involvement at scale of the Palestinian Authority and the private sector in Gaza, meaning larger quantities of materials are required to enter Gaza."
He said the United Nations is ready to explore how it can be expanded to monitor a Palestinian Authority-led private-sector reconstruction program in Gaza.
Norway and Egypt announced plans on Monday to co-host a donor conference once a durable cease-fire is in place and once adequate access conditions have been established, he said.
Serry said a system to import building materials should be agreed on before the conference because "donors will want to be assured that they can bring construction materials inside Gaza."
"Right now, Gaza urgently needs houses, hospitals, and schools — not rockets, tunnels, and conflict," Serry stressed.
Israel's U.N. Ambassador Ron Prosor endorsed that statement from Serry, noting it was a rare moment of agreement with the U.N. official.
Prosor vehemently disputed the U.N.'s casualty figures from the latest fighting, accusing the U.N. of quoting numbers from Hamas which it accused of using civilians as human shields.
Serry called the toll "appalling" — almost 2,000 Palestinians killed, more than two-thirds of them civilians, including 459 children and 239 women, and some 10,000 injured, roughly a third of them children.
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the United Nations does not get its casualty figures from Hamas. It gets the figures from the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, and they are based on reporting from non-governmental organizations, he said.