Homeless Gazans in `endless` wait to rebuild

With much of Gaza in ruins, reconstruction cannot come soon enough for thousands of homeless like Mohammed al-Najjar, a once-proud house owner whose family now huddles in a portable cabin.

Khuzaa: With much of Gaza in ruins, reconstruction cannot come soon enough for thousands of homeless like Mohammed al-Najjar, a once-proud house owner whose family now huddles in a portable cabin.

A new UN-brokered deal has set the stage for private companies to help rebuild after a seven-week conflict that left 100,000 people with nowhere to live.

Until now Israel`s eight-year blockade of Gaza has meant that few building materials are flowing into the Palestinian territory, making reconstruction a near-impossible task.

"This so-called temporary arrangement is beginning to look permanent," 60-year-old Najjar sighed.

"I`m scared that the blockade will never be lifted, and the Israelis won`t let any construction material in," he said after fighting which killed more than 2,140 Palestinians and 73 on the Israeli side.

His new abode in Khuzaa near the southern city of Khan Yunis is essentially just a portacabin with two rooms, a bathroom and a kitchenette where he lives with at least six relatives.

Although it is a small space, they are luckier than many to have somewhere to call their own, with most of the homeless now in cramped UN schools and shelters.

About 18,000 homes were destroyed or severely damaged in the fighting in July and August.

In total, an estimated five percent of the territory`s entire housing stock was left uninhabitable, according to UN figures.

A donation of 100 mobile homes by the Emirati charity Human Appeal International has helped some families move out of the schools to make way for a resumption of lessons, but there is deep concern over long-term reconstruction.Israel`s blockade on Gaza, in place since 2006, includes a ban on most construction materials including steel, cement and concrete for they could be used to build fortifications or tunnels.

"If the restrictions on (importing) building materials do not change, we will need 10 years to rebuild Gaza," said Adnan Abu Hasna, a spokesman for the UN`s Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA).

Under the terms of the ceasefire, Israel agreed to ease import restrictions on building materials, but so far there has been little sign of change, Palestinian officials say. 

Suheila Mohammedin, her husband and 45 of their children and grand-children live in a tent pitched on the ruins of their home in the battered Shejaiya district in eastern Gaza City. 

"It took us 10 years to build our home, and our children will never get to use it," she said, staring at the rubble of her former house.

"I might die without seeing it rebuilt."

Her husband Zuheir, a 57-year-old trader, sleeps with the male members of the family amongst the rubble, with no access to running water or electricity.

Said Sukar, who is living under the staircase of his mostly-collapsed home near Gaza City, said it would take him eight years to rebuild it.

"During that time where will we live?" he asked. "We have no food, no water, no electricity."UN peace envoy Robert Serry said the Israeli-Palestinian agreement announced on Tuesday would allow construction materials to be brought in to Gaza "to enable work at the scale required in the Strip."

The Western-backed Palestinian Authority would take a leading role in the process with Gaza`s private sector also involved, while the UN would ensure none of the materials fell into militant hands in a bid to allay Israel`s security concerns. 

A donor conference for post-war Gaza will take place in Cairo on October 12, with the UN and the Palestinian government making an initial appeal for humanitarian assistance to the tune of $551 million (425 million euros).

Yet even if the blockade is totally lifted, it will take at least five years and $7.8 billion to rebuild Gaza, according to the Ramallah-based Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction.

Abu Hasna, the UN refugee agency spokesman, said it was in Israel`s "own interest" to ease the blockade and allow reconstruction.

"The more time that passes (without rebuilding), the more frustration will grow, and tensions mount, in the Gaza Strip," he said.