Oct 3, 2014 5:17 AM

Abbas to seek $4 billion for Gaza reconstruction

The Associated Press

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) The Palestinian president will ask donor countries for $4 billion for Gaza reconstruction after a summer war between Israel and Hamas damaged or destroyed tens of thousands of homes and more than 5,000 businesses, according to a report Mahmoud Abbas is to present to a pledging conference this month.

During the 50-day war, Israel launched several thousand airstrikes and unleashed artillery barrages at what it said were Hamas-linked targets in Gaza, flattening entire neighborhoods. Hamas fired thousands of rockets and mortar shells at Israeli communities during the fighting.

According to the 72-page reconstruction report obtained by The Associated Press late Thursday, the Palestinian government will request $4 billion in emergency relief and reconstruction funds. It will also ask donors to pledge an additional $4.5 billion in support for the Palestinian government's budget through 2017.

The Gaza pledging conference will be held in Cairo on Oct. 12.

Meanwhile, Israel's army chief said in comments published Friday that it would serve Israeli security interests to allow construction materials to enter blockaded Gaza.

Israel and Egypt have sharply restricted movement and trade in and out of Gaza since the Islamic militant group Hamas seized the territory from Abbas in 2007.

Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz told the daily newspaper Haaretz that Hamas suffered military setbacks during the war, but that Israel can only secure long-term quiet on its border with Gaza if "an economic anchor backs up what was achieved in the fighting."

"We need to permit the opening of the strip to goods," Gantz was quoted as saying. "In the end, there are 1.8 million people there, with Israel and Egypt surrounding them. These people need to live."

The Israel-Hamas war that ended in late August killed more than 2,100 Palestinians, three-fourth of them civilians, according to U.N. figures. Israel lost 66 soldiers and six civilians.

Hamas had ruled Gaza with an iron grip since it seized the coastal strip. However, earlier this year, the militant movement found itself in a severe financial crisis, largely because Egypt tightened its closure, shutting virtually all smuggling tunnels into Gaza and cutting off a key source of Hamas revenues.

The pressure eventually forced Hamas to agree to hand over some powers to a temporary unity government of independent experts who report to Abbas.

The unity deal was struck before the war, but didn't get off the ground because of unresolved issues, including who would cover the back pay of some 40,000 civil servants and members of the security forces hired by Hamas after the 2007 takeover. Many of the employees hadn't been paid for several months.

On Friday, the prime minister of the unity government, Rami Hamdallah, said that under an agreement brokered by the U.N., some of those civil servants would receive payments before the end of the month, with funds coming from Qatar. A U.N. spokeswoman confirmed the arrangement.

The deal could help defuse some of the lingering tensions between Hamas and Abbas, and improve the chances of the unity government beginning operations in Gaza soon, mainly to oversee reconstruction.

Any reconstruction plans would also require Israel to permit the import of large quantities of cement, steel and other construction materials.

Under a recent deal between Israel, the Abbas government and the United Nations, Israel would allow such imports, provided Palestinian and U.N. inspectors make sure they are not diverted by Hamas for military use.

During the war, Israel had uncovered and partially destroyed a network of cement-lined Hamas military tunnels.

Palestinian government officials have said security forces loyal to Abbas would be deployed on the Gaza side of crossings with Israel after the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, which starts Saturday, as a first step in the process.

However, no date was given for their deployment, seen as key by many in the international community for getting ambitious reconstruction projects off the ground.

The Palestinian report asked for more than $1.1 billion to rebuild 20,000 homes or apartments that were destroyed or severely damaged and to repair more than 40,000 housing units with lesser damage. Close to $600 million would be required for more than 5,000 damaged or destroyed businesses and factories, the report said.


Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.


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