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Gaza blockade hinders reconstruction aid

PALESTINE: Most of the property and infrastructure damaged in Israel's offensive on the Gaza Strip was still unrepaired 12 months later and aid efforts have been largely ineffective, a UN report said Sunday.

The survey, published by the UN Development Programme, said that much of the repair work that has been carried out has used materials smuggled in through tunnels from neighbouring Egypt to circumvent Israeli and Egyptian blockades. Constrained by those sanctions, the report said, traditional international aid donors find themselves severely handicapped.

"Many members of the international community, including the United Nations, have refrained, thus far, from utilising materials identified as coming through the tunnels, subsequently limiting their role in reconstruction," it said. "While some recovery is taking place, the realities on the ground show that the international community is, by and large, rendered ineffective in addressing the needs of people in Gaza."

The United Nations says that at least 6,268 homes in the densely populated and impoverished Palestinian enclave were destroyed or severely damaged during the fighting between December 27, 2008 and January 18, 2009.

About 1,400 Palestinians were killed in the conflict and 13 Israelis died in combat or from militant rocket attacks on Israel.

Gaza's 1.5 million people have largely relied on a web of tunnels beneath the border with Egypt since Israel and Egypt tightened frontier controls after the militant Islamist group Hamas seized power there in June 2007. The World Bank estimates that 80 percent of Gaza's imports arrive by tunnel.

Jerusalem, Sunday, AFP

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