Gaza: Daunting rebuilding task after 11 days of Israeli bombing

UN warns health facilities in danger of being overwhelmed and urges immediate access to Gaza for supplies and personnel.

A Palestinian woman puts her hand on her head after returning to her destroyed house [Mohammed Salem/Reuters]

The ceasefire between the Israeli military and Hamas in the Gaza Strip has held through its second day, as thousands of displaced Palestinians in the besieged enclave returned to their homes to check for damage after 11 days of relentless Israeli bombardment.

Palestinian officials on Friday said it would cost some $100m to rebuild the damage to industry, power and agriculture in the already impoverished territory struggling under a devastating 14-year blockade. The United Nations said approximately 800,000 people in Gaza do not have regular access to clean piped water, as nearly 50 percent of the water network was damaged in the bombing.

“People are still out on the streets trying to resume something approaching what was, even for Gaza, normal life before all of this took place,” Al Jazeera’s Harry Fawcett, reporting from Gaza City, said on Saturday morning. “But everywhere you go around here you see the evidence of what has taken place in the last few days,” he added, standing in front a row of bombed-out buildings.

“The electricity situation was at around 12 hours a day, which by the standards of recent years was actually pretty good for Gaza, but that has been stripped back to [up to] five hours a day,” he added, noting there were also major issues with water and desalination.

“Gaza’s 13 hospitals are very much under pressure not just from the sheer volume of patients but also shortage in fuel supply too.”

Meanwhile, convoys of trucks carrying aid began passing into Gaza through the Karem Abu Salem or Kerem Shalom crossing after it was reopened by Israel, bringing much-needed medicine, food and fuel. The United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund said it had released $18.5 million for humanitarian efforts.

“There have been some supplies getting in but the doctors, hospitals and aid organisations are facing an enormous task in the coming weeks,” said Fawcett. “Indeed there is a much longer-term issue of reconstruction – can they get in the materials and the money and can they get the work done that is required to start putting back together what has been so comprehensively taken apart in 11 days of fighting?”

One of the most densely populated places on Earth, Gaza has for years been subjected to an Israeli blockade that restricts the passage of people and goods, as well as restrictions by Egypt.

World Health Organization (WHO) spokeswoman Margaret Harris said Gaza’s health facilities were in danger of being overwhelmed by the thousands of injuries and called for immediate access into the besieged enclave for health supplies and personnel.

“The real challenges are the closures,” she told a virtual UN briefing.

Fabrizio Carboni, regional director of the International Committee of the Red Cross, echoed WHO’s call for urgent medical supplies, adding, “It will take years to rebuild – and even more to rebuild the fractured lives.”

Five more bodies were pulled out on Friday from Gaza’s rubble, taking the death toll to 248 Palestinians, including 66 children, with more than 1,900 wounded. The Israeli military said an Israeli soldier had been killed, as well as 12 civilians, including two children. Hundreds were treated for injuries after rocket salvoes caused panic and sent people as far away as Tel Aviv rushing into shelters.

Hundreds of homes destroyed

Tens of thousands of Palestinians were forced to take shelter in United Nations-run schools to escape the Israeli bombardment. For many families who began returning to their homes after the ceasefire came into effect in the early hours of Friday, there was little or nothing left of their homes.

Quoting Gaza’s public works and housing ministry, the UN’s office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said nearly 17,000 residential and commercial units have been damaged or destroyed in Israel’s 11-day campaign.

These include 769 housing and commercial units that have been rendered uninhabitable, at least 1,042 units in some 258 buildings which have been destroyed and another 14,538 units that have suffered minor damage.

“[There is a] ratio of about more than six people per home in this town and in the Strip, that’s more than 80,000 people who have lost their homes or had their homes seriously or partially damaged,” Fawcett said. “That is a major catastrophe for this community.”

Nazmi Dahdouh, 70, a father of five, said his house in Gaza City was destroyed in an Israeli attack.

“We don’t have another home. I’ll live in a tent on top of the rubble of my home until it’s rebuilt,” he told the AFP news agency.

But Malak Mattar, an artist in Gaza City, told Al Jazeera that the ceasefire had brought relief for her family.

“We are feeling relieved. We are finally able to get long hours of sleep which is something that we’ve been deprived of for the past 10 or 11 days, so it’s such a good thing that we are feeling safe, that there are no bombardments,” Mattar said.

“We are able now to get food supplies … so, we are feeling relieved.”

Al-Aqsa raid

In occupied East Jerusalem, Israeli police cracked down on protesters on Friday at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, two weeks after a similar crackdown triggered the escalation in violence. The site is sacred to both Muslims and Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount.

Confrontations also broke out in several other parts of East Jerusalem, and at the crossing point between Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank, Israeli police said, adding that hundreds of officers and border guards had been mobilised.

Al Jazeera’s Hoda Abdel-Hamid, reporting from occupied East Jerusalem, said while the war in Gaza was over, tensions were still running high elsewhere.

“There is a ceasefire but that ceasefire really concerns only Gaza. All the rest of the issues between the two sides are very much there,” Abdel-Hamid said.

“Today, people were also celebrating and they had a sigh of relief that the war in Gaza is over, but the tensions are still there.”

Israel and Hamas claim victory

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel’s bombing campaign of Palestinian armed groups had killed “more than 200” fighters in Gaza, including 25 senior commanders, which he described as an “exceptional success”.

Hamas, the Palestinian group that governs the coastal enclave, also claimed “victory”.

“We have dealt a painful and severe blow that will leave its deep marks” on Israel, said the movement’s political chief Ismail Haniya, pledging to rebuild Gaza.

He also thanked Iran for “providing funds and weapons” to Hamas.

Several world leaders welcomed the ceasefire deal. US President Joe Biden said he believed there was “a genuine opportunity to make progress” and stressed his commitment to “working toward it”. The European Union insisted that working towards a “two-state solution” was the only viable option. Russia and China called for a return to peace talks.

Netanyahu’s office had announced the ceasefire “without pre-conditions” on Thursday evening, with Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad – another armed group in Gaza – confirming it shortly afterwards.

Ceasefire monitors

Egyptian state media reported that two Egyptian security delegations had arrived to monitor the ceasefire deal from either side.

The US State Department said top diplomat Antony Blinken would “meet with Israeli, Palestinian and regional counterparts in the coming days to discuss recovery efforts and working together to build better futures for Israelis and Palestinians”.

UN chief Antonio Guterres said Israel and the Palestinians now had a responsibility to have “a serious dialogue to address the root causes of the conflict”.

He also called for a “robust package of support for a swift, sustainable reconstruction and recovery”.

Eric Ham, a columnist for the Washington Diplomat, said  the latest military confrontation between Israel and Hamas had led to a shift in perception of Israel among some lawmakers in the United States.

“What you are seeing now is a number of Democrats who are willing to come out and speak in very openly critical terms of Israel and Israel’s military aggression or response vis-à-vis what we are seeing in the Gaza Strip,” Ham told Al Jazeera.

“This is something’s that unprecedented that we would not have seen from Democrats even five years ago.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies