Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Gaza homes 'uninhabitable' as tens of thousands come back to rubble

Tens of thousands of people across Gaza returned to their homes on Monday as a tenuous ceasefire held and hopes rose of an end to the month-long conflict between Israel and Hamas.

Local officials and humanitarian workers began to inspect the latest damage the war had caused in the overcrowded enclave, with assessments indicating earlier estimates may have been optimistic.

In Gaza City, which has a population of half a million, 20%-25% of the housing stock had been damaged, said Nihad al-Mughni of the engineering department.

Mohammed al-Kafarna, the mayor of Beit Hanoun, a northern town which saw fierce fighting and heavy bombardment, said 70% of homes were uninhabitable. "Basically the town is unliveable. There is no power, water or communications. There are not the basics for life," he said.

In Shawkat, a neighbourhood of Rafah city in the south which saw heavy fighting after an earlier ceasefire collapsed within hours, 300 out of 2,000 houses had been destroyed, along with the town hall.

"You can't imagine the destruction," said Adel Lubda, the chief council engineer.

Previous estimates of 65,000 rendered homeless in Gaza now look conservative. In Beit Hanoun alone, about 30,000 people will have to be rehoused. The town is just one of around a dozen communities lying in the two-mile "free fire zone" declared by Israeli troops to have been devastated during the most intense period of fighting.

Gaza has a population of 1.8 million and already had a chronic shortage of housing before this latest conflict, the third in six years between Hamas and Israel.

On Monday, the United Nations called the level of destruction "unprecedented".

Israeli air strikes in Gaza continued until the ceasefire agreed late on Sunday evening by Hamas under heavy Egyptian pressure came into effect. Israeli military officials said they had attacked terrorist targets. Around 20 people had been killed since the previous truce expired on Friday. More than 1,900 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have died in the war.

Militant factions allied to Hamas fired rockets and mortars into Israel over the weekend. More than 3,000 rockets have now been launched from Gaza in recent weeks, killing three in Israel. Sixty-four Israeli soldiers have been killed.

Nadia Dibsy, of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), said it had been impossible to properly assess the overall magnitude of the damage.

North of Beit Lahia on Monday, people picked through the ruins of a series of apartment blocks facing the border with Israel that have been almost totally destroyed. Ibrahim Jassa, 33, an unemployed labourer, said: "I have nothing, except seven children. No job, no home, just the clothes we were wearing when we left."

Sabr al-Gharboui, 53, said three apartments she had shared with her sons had all been reduced to rubble. "I have no idea what we will do. We just hope the ceasefire will hold. But what happens next? That's what worries us."

Though local electricity engineers were hopeful of restoring the supply of power to Gaza's prewar levels of six to 10 hours a day in some areas, it may take years to recommission the only power station, which was destroyed on 29 July. Pumping stations, power transmission networks and water pipes have all been badly damaged. more


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