Gazans shiver in ruined homes, tents after brutal storm

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Palestinian boys watch sea gulls fly during a winter storm in the Al-Shatee refugee camp in Gaza City on January 6, 2014. AFP/Mohammed Abed

Published Thursday, January 8, 2015

Gazans who survived a brutal summer war are now struggling with the worst storm of the winter, as freezing rain and gale-force winds battered the besieged Gaza Strip on Thursday.

At least ten Palestinians were injured in the Gaza Strip after a winter storm, dubbed "Huda," hit the embattled coastal enclave, Gaza's civil defense department said.

More than 96,000 homes were destroyed or damaged during the latest Israeli assault on Gaza, which killed more than 2,300 Palestinians during 50 days in July and August.

Gazans are now living by candlelight and wood fire because of electricity shortages, and rely on sandbags to stop their ruined homes from flooding. Some Gazans have sought shelter in the Sheikh Shaaban cemetery outside Gaza City, living in makeshift hut and tents.

Wael al-Sheikh, 37, lost his home last summer during an Israeli airstrike and now lives with his two sons in a tent pitched among the ruins. But with no access to electricity, it is impossible to fend off the cold.

Fearing that the winds of 80 kilometers per hour would simply blow their makeshift home away, they have sought refuge with relatives.

Imad Mutlaq's home was also largely destroyed in the war, leaving the wind whistling through the cracks in the walls.

"We have no electricity or heating," he said, describing the first night of the storm as "difficult."

Thirty-year-old Mohammed Ziyad, a father of two young sets of twins, is trying to put on a brave face.

During a previous storm, the ground floor of the building where they live flooded, but this time he said the family was well prepared.

"We have stocked up on milk and nappies in case we find ourselves stuck indoors," he said.

With or without a proper roof over their heads, everyone is facing the same problem: the chronic electricity shortages which has plagued the tiny, impoverished strip that is home to 1.8 million people.

Gaza's sole power station, which was damaged during the war, is struggling with a severe lack of fuel and is only able to supply the enclave with six hours of power per day.

Raed al-Dahshan, head of Gaza's civil defense, said his staff were facing "a difficult situation which was compounded by a lack of infrastructure" to help those suffering from the storm.

Gaza is also prone to severe flooding, exacerbated by a chronic lack of fuel that limits how much water can be pumped out of flood-stricken areas. The fuel shortages are a result of the eight-year-old Israeli blockade, which limits the import of other kinds of machinery related to pumping and sewage management that could help Gazans combat the floods. The most recent war has exacerbated the crisis.

In early November, flooding from days of torrential rains forced hundreds of Gaza City residents to flee their homes, as a massive week long storm flooded the city’s streets and homes with water and sewage.

Dispute over reconstruction funds

The Hamas resistance movement on Tuesday accused the Palestinian Authority(PA) of interfering with money earmarked for the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip.

In a statement, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said some ministers of the Palestinian national consensus government "admitted that the money allocated for Gaza reconstruction was being added to the PA budget."

This confession, he said, "proves that the real reason behind the delay in reconstruction of Gaza is that the PA has been messing with the reconstruction money and exploiting the suffering of Gaza's people."

For 51 days this summer, Israel pounded the Gaza Strip – by air, land and sea – with the stated aim of ending rocket fire from the coastal enclave.

More than 2,310 Gazans, 70 percent of them civilians, were killed and 10,626 injured during unrelenting Israeli attacks on the besieged strip.

According to the UN, the Israeli military killed at least 495 Palestinian children in Gaza during “Operation Protective Edge.” The al-Mezan Center for Human Rights puts the number at 518, while the Palestinian Center for Human Rights puts it at 519. All three figures exceed the total number of Israelis, both civilians and soldiers, killed by Palestinians in the last decade.

The Palestinian Ministry of Health reported that 3,106 Palestinian children were injured in the war. The UN estimates that 1,000 children will suffer a permanent disability as a result of their injury.

Moreover, the UN said as many as 1,500 children have been orphaned by Israeli attacks that killed their parents, while 6,000 children will have a parent with a lifelong disability.

In addition, 145 Palestinian families had three or more members killed in a single Israeli attack, for a total of 735 lives lost.

The assault ended with an Egypt-brokered ceasefire agreement that called for reopening Gaza's border crossings with Israel, which, if implemented, would effectively end the latter's years-long blockade of the embattled territory.

However, Israel had repeatedly blocked the entry of building material, prompting the UN in September to broker another deal. The reconstruction of Gaza has yet to begin.

The Palestinian Authority has estimated that the rebuilding Gaza will cost $7.8 billion.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon said during a visit to the Gaza Strip in October that the devastation he had seen was “beyond description” and “far worse” than that caused in the previous Israel-Gaza conflict of winter 2008-2009.

According to the UN, over 106,000 of Gaza's 1.8 million residents have been displaced to UN shelters and host families.

(AFP, Anadolu, Al-Akhbar)

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