Middle East


Were going to step away from our Inauguration coverage now to tell you about two other stories. First, to the Gaza Strip where a tenuous cease-fire is holding. Hamas is acting triumphant after three weeks of intense Israeli attacks. For many civilians, the destruction across Gaza presents a different reality. NPR's Eric Westervelt reports from Gaza.

(Soundbite of crowd at a rally)

ERIC WESTERVELT: At a well-attended rally through the devastated streets of Gaza City today, the ruling Hamas movement reasserted its authority and declared victory after three weeks of war with Israel. On the sidelines of the rally, Hamas spokesman, Fouzi Barhoum told reporters President Obama must change U.S. policy toward Hamas and the Palestinians after what he called the terrorism of the Bush administration.

Mr. FOUZI BARHOUM (Spokesman, Hamas): Obama must take a lesson from all of these mistake and the crimes committed by American administration against the civilian people inside Afghanistan, and Iraq and Somalia, and Lebanon, and Palestine.

WESTERVELT: Few people in Gaza seemed to care about the inauguration of Barack Obama. One Gazan returning to his ravaged home was asked if he knew what was happening in Washington today. He shook his head no and walked on. Many ordinary civilians struggling to rebuild shattered lives sneered at Hamas' assertion of victory. Water and power problems are extensive. Hospitals are still clogged with the wounded. The UN here estimates that some 50,000 homes in the territory were damaged or destroyed in the Israeli attacks. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today, visited Gaza and called the destruction shocking and heartbreaking. He also said the Israeli shelling of several U.N.-run schools and an attack that set fire to the UN's main warehouse were disgraceful. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: Actual figures of home destruction appear to have been much lower. Estimates by the Palestine Central Bureau of Statistics established that about 4,100 Gaza homes were destroyed and 17,000 were damaged, for a total of 21,100 - a figure cited in subsequent NPR reports.]

Secretary-General BAN KI MOON (United Nations): It is an outrageous and totally unacceptable attack against the United Nations.

WESTERVELT: Ban Ki-moon pledged that the UN will do all it can to mobilize international aid to help rebuild devastated homes and lives here. Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Gaza City.

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