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Smoke billows on the horizon during a residential building hit in an Israeli air strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. Alamy Stock Photo

UN says rebuilding Gaza could cost $40 billion as Hamas examining truce deal in 'positive spirit'

UN Assistant Secretary-General Abdullah al-Dardari said 72% of all residential buildings in the region “have been completely or partially destroyed”.

THE RECONSTRUCTION of Gaza following Israel’s military offensive would require an international effort unseen since the aftermath of World War II and could cost up to $40 billion (€37 billion), according to the United Nations. 

Speaking at a briefing in the Jordanian capital Amman, UN Assistant Secretary-General Abdullah al-Dardari said 72% of all residential buildings in the region “have been completely or partially destroyed”.

He was speaking ahead of the publication of a report by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), which states that the ongoing conflict has set back Palestine’s overall socio-economic development by more than 20 years. 

Much of Gaza has been reduced to a grey landscape of rubble, with the UN estimating the cost of reconstruction at between $30 billion and $40 billion.

“The scale of the destruction is huge and unprecedented… this is a mission that the global community has not dealt with since World War II,” al-Dardari said.

Reconstruction is made more difficult by the presence of large quantities of unexploded ordnance that Gaza’s Civil Defence agency says triggers “more than 10 explosions every week”.

The report also warned of sharp decline in the Human Development Index (HDI), UNDP’s summary measure of wellbeing. It states that if the conflict continues for nine months, it could wipe out 44 years of development in Gaza. 

It comes as Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh struck an optimistic tone over a possible truce and hostage release deal, after weeks of largely stalled negotiations.

There have been reports of sticking points between the militant group and Israel nearly seven months into the war that has devastated the Palestinian territory.

But Haniyeh, head of the militant group’s Qatar-based political bureau, said in calls to Egyptian and Qatari mediators that Hamas was studying the latest proposal with a “positive spirit”.

The current conflict has been ongoing since Hamas’s 7 October attack on Israel that resulted in the deaths of 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

Israel estimates that 129 captives seized by militants during their attack remain in Gaza. The military says 34 of them are dead.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive against Hamas has killed at least 34,596 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

‘Get this done’

Mediators have proposed a deal that would halt fighting for 40 days and exchange Israeli hostages for potentially thousands of Palestinian prisoners, according to details released by Britain.

An Israeli official not authorised to speak publicly said Israel was still waiting for Hamas’s formal response to the latest proposal.

Before Haniyeh’s comments today, Hamas officials had given it a generally negative reception.

Senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan told AFP late Wednesday that the movement’s position on the proposal was “negative” for the time being.

Another senior Hamas official, Suhail al-Hindi, said the group’s aim remained an “end to this war” – a goal at odds with the stated position of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

But the militant group has come under intense pressure from mediators to accept the latest offer.

“Hamas needs to say yes and needs to get this done,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in Israel Wednesday on his latest Middle East crisis tour.

Mounting criticism

Following talks with Blinken, Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid said Netanyahu “doesn’t have any political excuse not to move to a deal for the release of the hostages”.

Regardless of whether a truce is reached, Netanyahu has vowed to send Israeli ground troops into Rafah, despite US opposition to any operation that fails to provide protection for the 1.5 million civilians sheltering in Gaza’s southernmost city.

“We will do what is necessary to win and overcome our enemy, including in Rafah,” he pledged at a cabinet meeting today.

Separately, Netanyahu told a delegation of Holocaust survivors that Jews should welcome but not expect non-Jewish support and should be ready to “stand alone”.

“If it is possible to recruit Gentiles, that’s good. But if we don’t protect ourselves, no one will protect us,” he told them.

Netanyahu faces regular protests calling on him to make a deal that would bring home the remaining captives.

Today, protesters set up over-sized photographs of women hostages outside Netanyahu’s Jerusalem residence. In Tel Aviv they again blocked a highway.

Criticism of the war has also intensified in the United States, Israel’s top military supplier.

Demonstrations have spread to at least 30 US universities, with some protesters erecting encampments to oppose Gaza’s rising death toll.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog slammed the protests, charging that US universities had been “contaminated by hatred and anti-Semitism”.

President Joe Biden said the United States was “not an authoritarian nation where we silence people”, but added that anti-Semitism had “no place” on US campuses.

A mother’s tears

In response to US pressure, Israel has allowed increased aid deliveries into Gaza in recent days, including through a reopened crossing.

But UN aid chief Martin Griffiths said that “improvements in bringing more aid into Gaza” cannot be used “to prepare for or justify a full-blown military assault on Rafah”.

At south Gaza’s largest hospital, the Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Younis, which was heavily damaged by fighting in February, foreign aid and borrowed equipment has helped to “almost completely” restore the emergency department, its director Atef al-Hout said.

Witnesses and an AFP correspondent reported air strikes on Khan Yunis today and shelling in the Rafah area, while militants and Israeli troops battled in Gaza City.

Palestinian advocacy groups said today that Dr Adnan Ahmed Atiya al-Barsh, orthopaedics chief at Al-Shifa hospital, Gaza’s largest, died last month in Israeli custody, and alleged he had been tortured.

Israel’s military told AFP it was “not aware” of such an incident.

In north Gaza, workers unloaded aid at Kamal Adwan Hospital where Alaa al-Nadi’s son lay motionless in the intensive care unit, his head swathed in bandages.

Nadi, who was also wounded, said she feared the hospital’s power might go out, cutting his oxygen and killing him.

“I call on the world to transfer my son for treatment abroad. He is in a very bad condition,” she said, breaking down.

With reporting from © AFP 2024 

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