UN: Gaza needs construction material before winter

AP News
Posted: Nov 09, 2009 11:32 AM

Thousands of Gaza Palestinians left homeless by an Israeli invasion face a cold and rainy winter unless Israel allows building supplies in, a senior U.N. official said Monday.

But Israel has ruled out unrestricted shipments, fearing the material would be used by militants.

Thousands of homes in Gaza were damaged or destroyed during Israel's fierce three-week winter offensive against the territory's Hamas rulers, aimed at stopping years of rocket attacks.

Although the offensive ended nine months ago, the homes have not been repaired because Israel does not allow raw materials to enter the territory, part of its two-year blockade imposed after Hamas seized power in Gaza.

"For the people in Gaza, life is miserable, life is not getting better, winter is coming, the rain is coming," Maxwell Gaylard, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for the Palestinian territories, said after touring a badly hit Gaza neighborhood.

The overcrowded, poverty-stricken Gaza Strip, a sliver of land along the Mediterranean Sea, has short rainy winters that usually begin by December.

In the Israeli offensive that started Dec. 27, about 1,400 Palestinians were killed, including hundreds of civilians, according to U.N. and Palestinian estimates. Thirteen Israelis also were killed. Israel's count of Palestinian dead was about 1,100.

The U.N. estimates around 20,000 Gaza residents were made homeless by the offensive. Some 3,500 homes were destroyed, another 2,800 were badly damaged and around 53,000 others sustained minor damage.

"When it rains, it rains on us," said Karima Juneid, 56, a Gaza woman living in a trailer close to where her family's four-story apartment building once stood.

Juneid is one of around 2,000 Gaza residents who still live in donated trailers and tents in heavily damaged areas. Most residents have crowded into apartments with relatives or have recycled old materials to fix their homes.

Wealthier Gazans have been able to buy smuggled concrete and glass on the black market at four times the pre-blockade price.

Juneid's trailer is crammed with three piled up mattresses where she and her sons sleep at night, while outside is a makeshift shaded area where they raise two chickens.

Abandoned by her husband, Juneid said she does not have enough money to rent an apartment.

In the neighborhood around her, some apartment buildings were reduced to a mass of concrete chunks and protruding metal. Residents use plastic to cover up smashed windows and rusty tin sheets to fill holes in the walls.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said Israel would allow more materials in when it receives assurances that the goods will be used for civilian purposes, not by militants. But he said the "uncontrolled flow of cement and iron" into Gaza is "out of the question."

The U.N. has lobbied Israel for months to allow in building materials like cement to finish off some $80 million in U.N. construction projects. Gaylard said they repeatedly told Israeli officials that they would not allow Hamas to seize the materials. "We've given plenty of assurances," he said.