Palestinians lay first brick for Gaza reconstruction
GAZA CITY - Palestinian housing minister Mufid al-Hasayneh laid a brick Wednesday for the first Gaza home to be rebuilt since the Israel-Hamas war a year ago, as frustration mounts over the slow pace of reconstruction.
The 50-day war in July-August 2014 killed 2,200 Palestinians, 73 on the Israeli side, and destroyed or damaged tens of thousands of homes in the besieged Gaza Strip.
Until now the only repairs have been to homes which were partially damaged, while 18,000 totally destroyed houses remain in ruins.
Israel's ongoing blockade of Gaza, now in its ninth year, has been blamed for the slow progress as well as a lack of international donor support for the territory, ruled by the Islamist movement Hamas.
Hasayneh laid the brick at the Harara family's home in Shejaiya, an area east of Gaza City that was one of the worst hit by Israeli shelling during the war.
"The march towards real reconstruction of the Gaza Strip has begun, and nothing will stop it," Hasayneh said.
"We will see a lot of movement on the reconstruction front in the coming days. We will rebuild all homes destroyed by Israel," he said, thanking several Arab countries including Qatar and Saudi Arabia for their donations towards Gaza's reconstruction.
But the process is expected to take years in the war-torn coastal enclave, whose 1.8 million residents have seen three wars in six years between Israel and Palestinian militants.
Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA has said that so far it only received enough money for 200 out of the 7,000 houses it is tasked with rebuilding.
Donations pledged at an international conference in Cairo in October have been slow to arrive, and the blockade that has choked Gaza for years is still in place.
Israel controls two of the three goods and personnel crossings into the enclave, and Egypt controls a third.
Israel says more than 1.1 million tonnes of construction material have been allowed in since October through the Kerem Shalom goods crossing.
Egypt last month allowed cement supplies to be brought in through the Rafah crossing.
Critics of the blockade have called for it to be fully lifted to accelerate reconstruction, warning that an ongoing humanitarian crisis could fuel further conflict.