Sunday, February 8, 2009

After Gaza War, Daunting Curbs On Rebuilding

Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, February 8, 2009

BEIT LAHIYA, Gaza Strip -- Mohammed Irhaiem's former home was a spacious 1,500 square feet and was built from solid concrete blocks. It had views of the Mediterranean and fruit trees in the yard.

His new home, which he surveyed for the first time this week, measures 12 by 6 feet and is made of sheets of canvas held aloft by three wooden poles. His is one of 90 bright white tents that have sprouted in neat rows amid a sea of gray rubble, the wreckage from homes -- including Irhaiem's -- that were destroyed during the 22-day Gaza war between Israel and Hamas.

"It's humiliating," said Irhaiem, 49, clutching the hand of his barefoot young grandson as he contemplated life for himself and 24 relatives in the tent colony.

But it will have to do: Three weeks after the war's end, the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip has scarcely started, caught in a web of political battles that aid workers worry could prevent the work from ever getting done.

The most daunting obstacle is the lack of construction supplies, which are badly needed to rebuild the approximately 4,000 homes that were destroyed in the fighting and repair an additional 17,000 that were damaged. The United Nations estimates that as many as 100,000 people were rendered homeless by the war.

But Israel has banned raw materials from entering Gaza, reasoning that goods such as cement and steel could be used by Hamas to build bunkers or manufacture rockets.

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