Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Palestinians mark one year since Gaza war


GAZA CITY (AFP) -- Palestinians marked one year since last summer's devastating war in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, with a ceasefire still largely holding but few of the issues that led to the conflict resolved.

The war took a heavy toll on Gaza, killing 2,251 Palestinians, including at least 1,500 civilians and more than 500 children. Seventy-three people were killed on the Israeli side, including 67 soldiers.

A UN report released last month said both sides may have committed war crimes during the 50-day conflict, which has left more than 100,000 Gazans homeless in the impoverished enclave of 1.8 million people.

It was the third war in Gaza in six years, and by far the deadliest and most destructive of the three, leaving families wondering when the suffering will end.

"You have to remember, if you are even just a seven-year-old child... you have been through three wars," said Robert Turner, Gaza operations director for UN relief agency UNRWA.

Hamas, the movement that runs the Gaza Strip, has planned commemorations on Wednesday.

Israel held a memorial on Monday for the 73 killed in the war, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended the military offensive.

"I say to all enemies of Israel -- Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran and IS (Islamic State) -- that those who attempt to attack our people will pay with their blood," he said.

The circumstances surrounding Gaza have led to fears that another war could eventually break out, with the Gazan population still living in desperate poverty as a result of a crippling Israeli blockade.

Pierre Krahenbuhl, UNRWA's commissioner general, said in a statement Wednesday: "The root causes of the conflict remain unaddressed. The despair, destitution and denial of dignity resulting from last year’s war and from the blockade are a fact of life for ordinary people in Gaza."

In recent weeks rocket have once again been fired into Israel, with the Israeli army responding with air strikes.

Indirect talks on shoring up the ceasefire that ended last year's war and easing Israel's blockade on the territory have taken place, but there have been no signs that a deal could be reached anytime soon.

The blockade, as well as a lack of financing from international donors, have been blamed for the slow pace of reconstruction in Gaza, where around 18,000 homes were destroyed or severely damaged and up to 120,000 Gazans remain homeless, according to UNRWA.

A split between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority led by President Mahmoud Abbas, which runs the occupied West Bank, has worsened the situation. Reconciliation attempts have failed to heal the rift.

Meanwhile, Hamas has been challenged by Salafist militant groups in Gaza, some claiming links to IS and who have taken credit for recent rocket fire. more

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