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And in the four months since Israel launched an offensive against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip, almost no reconstruction has taken place. That operation left much of Gaza in ruins. And the United Nations is calling on Israel to allow vital reconstruction materials, like cement, into Gaza. Israel is resisting that appeal.
NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports from Gaza City.
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: Sitting underneath a plastic tent in the hot, afternoon sun, Mohammed Abed Rabo points to the ruins of his house.
Mr. MOHAMMED ABED RABO: (Foreign language spoken)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Several slabs of concrete lie jumbled on top of one another, like giant, crumbled crackers. Twenty-five members of his extended family were living in the house before Israel's Gaza offensive. During the fighting, they fled this area. When they returned, they found their home destroyed. Now,this tent is their only shelter. Mohammed Abed Rabo says they've been given $5,000 from the Palestinian Authority, and $5,000 from the Hamas government here in Gaza, but the money is being spent on food and on rent for an apartment for some of his children.
Mr. RABO: (Through Translator) I'm not very optimistic at all about the issue of reconstructing my house and reconstructing Gaza Strip. I call on all the Palestinian factions to sit together to solve this problem because money is useless. When you give us money with the terminals closed, I cannot even get cement or, you know, materials in order to reconstruct the house.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: While Hamas oversees life inside Gaza, Israel controls the land, sea and air around the territory. Every day, the Israelis allow 80 to 100 truckloads of humanitarian aid to come into the strip, but that doesn't include reconstruction materials. John Ging is the director of the United Nations office in Gaza.
Mr. JOHN GING (Director, United Nations Office, Gaza): It's hard to fathom that after all of the outpouring of concern and empathy with the plight of the people here during the January conflict, that months later, they're still living in the rubble of their former lives and with no prospect of there being an opening of those crossing points to allow the recovery and reconstruction of Gaza.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Ging says in the past few weeks, there have been few Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel coming from Gaza, but the Israeli government has done nothing to ease the plight of Gaza's civilians.
Mr. GING: So the rockets have stopped, but the siege continues. Where's the dividend for the Palestinians?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Israeli spokesman Yigal Palmor says there is a simple reason why the border crossings remain closed.
Mr. YIGAL PALMOR (Spokesman): What we have there is a rebel area in secession from its own, legitimate government; in an open, armed confrontation with its main neighbor, Israel; and claiming to be martyrized and victimized by everybody. The real problem here is the attitude of the Hamas de facto government.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Palmor acknowledges that there have been fewer rocket attacks recently, but says until there are guarantees, Israel cannot be sure of Hamas's intentions.
Mr. PALMOR: All the cements that Gaza used in past years was used not for -or almost not for civilian building, but for building military positions and bunkers. And we can't allow Hamas to rearm itself with materials coming from Israel.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Meanwhile, the restrictions have bolstered a flourishing black market in Gaza.
Unidentified Man #1: (Foreign language spoken)
Unidentified Man #2: (Foreign language spoken)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: A Palestinian man tries to buy a bag of cement at this Gaza construction store. The only cement sold here is Egyptian, smuggled in through a system of tunnels along the Gaza-Egypt border. Hundreds of tunnels were destroyed by Israeli troops during the Gaza offensive to stop Hamas militants from smuggling weapons. Now they've been rebuilt, and they are again a vital lifeline for the people here. Nasser, who doesn't want his last name used, runs this hardware shop.
NASSER (Hardware Shop Owner): (Through Translator) Because of the blockade, we receive our cement from Egypt through the tunnel. The cement from there is 10 times the price. So when ordinary people want to rebuild their homes, they cannot afford it.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: A bag of cement costs $50 nowadays in Gaza. And even if money is no object, Nasser says it's impossible to smuggle the quantities needed to rebuild one house, much less the thousands that were destroyed.
Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Gaza.
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