Sunday, January 25, 2009

Gaza homeless toll 'hits 50,000'

Monday, 19 January 2009
Gaza homeless toll 'hits 50,000'
The BBC's Aleem Maqbool views the damage in one Gaza City neighbourhood

Tens of thousands of Palestinians have been left destitute by Israel's three-week offensive against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip, the UN estimates.

The United Nations says that some 50,800 people are now homeless and 400,000 are without running water.

Correspondents in Gaza City say entire neighbourhoods have been flattened and bodies are still being recovered.

Israel says it will allow 143 trucks loaded with humanitarian aid into Gaza plus 60,000 litres of fuel.

An International Committee of the Red Cross spokesman said on Monday evening that 10 ambulances carrying medical supplies had travelled into Gaza via the Kerem Shalom crossing in the south.

Earlier, Israeli spokesman Mark Regev told the BBC: "Medicines, foodstuffs, energy, all will be reaching the Gaza Strip in the volume that is required and in an expeditious manner."

The BBC was unable to verify whether the food and fuel convoys reached Gaza.

Palestinian medical sources say at least 1,300 Palestinians have been killed and 5,500 injured during the conflict. Thirteen Israelis have been killed since the offensive began on 27 December.

Israel called a ceasefire on Saturday, saying it had met its war aims. Hamas later declared its own truce, with one of its leaders claiming a "great victory" over Israel.

Scrap metal

As the ceasefire continues to hold, Palestinians in Gaza have been returning home to assess the damage.

The BBC's Christian Fraser travelled to Jabaliya on the northern edge of Gaza City, where the Israeli tanks first crossed over the border. He says entire neighbourhoods have disappeared.

He met 67-year-old Fatma Umanim, sitting beside the remains her collapsed house, her neighbours building a makeshift shelter for her next to the rubble.

Our correspondent says an industry is growing out of the destruction in broken wood and scrap metal - Gaza's poorest salvaging whatever they can.

The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, is planning to visit Gaza on Tuesday to inspect the damage, but that his trip "could be subject to change", Israeli officials said.

The director of operations in Gaza for Unrwa, the UN relief agency, John Ging, said most important now was how to get basic supplies into the territory.

"We have a big recovery operation ahead of us, reconstruction - none of it will be possible of course, on any scale, until we get crossing points open," he told the BBC.

Unrwa was keen to reopen its schools, Mr Ging said, where tens of thousands of Palestinians have been sheltering.

Quick pullout

Divisions among Arab countries have re-emerged at an Arab League summit in Kuwait that has been dominated by the crisis in Gaza.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said Hamas had invited the Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip by refusing to extend a six-month truce that expired in December.

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad said Arab leaders should adopt a resolution declaring Israel a terrorist entity, and support what he called the "Palestinian resistance".

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called for immediate reconciliation talks among Palestinian factions, along with parliamentary and presidential elections.

Analysts say Mr Abbas is facing challenges to his legitimacy, with Hamas claiming his term is over and many of his supporters angered by criticisms he made of the militant group while it was under fire from Israel.

Previous talks on a unity government have broken down, and the two sides remain divided over the timing of possible elections.

Israelis and Palestinians give their views on Israel's ceasefire announcement

The league discussed a proposal for a $2bn (£1.3bn) fund for reconstruction in Gaza, with Saudi King Abdullah saying his country would donate $1bn.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said he wanted troops to leave Gaza "as quickly as possible", and some have already left.

Anonymous Israeli officials, quoted by AP news agency, said the withdrawal would be completed before US President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration on Tuesday.

But analysts say big questions remain, such as who will police Gaza's southern border with Egypt and how much power Hamas still has.

Hamas has said it would hold fire for a week to give Israel time to withdraw its forces from the Gaza Strip.

But a spokesman for Hamas' military wing, Abu Ubaida, said its rocket capabilities had not been affected by the conflict and that "the enemy will receive more rockets".


More than 1,300 Palestinians killed
Thirteen Israeli deaths
More than 4,000 buildings destroyed in Gaza, more than 20,000 severely damaged
50,800 Gazans homeless and 400,000 without running water

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