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Aid flows in – but no construction materials

Members of the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the Islamist movement's armed wing, stand guard in front of a portrait of killed senior Hamas commander Mohammed Abu Shamala on August 28, 2014 during a visit of the latter's family by deputy chairman of Hamas' political bureau Mussa Abu Marzuk, in Rafah in the southern of Gaza Strip. Shamala, a member of the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, has been killed in the Gaza Strip by Israeli warplanes on August 21, 2014. AFP PHOTO / SAID KHATIB

GAZA CITY, Palestine: Vital humanitarian aid poured into Gaza Thursday as residents went about rebuilding their lives following a devastating 50-day war between Israel and Hamas that left over 2,000 dead.

Millions in and around the war-torn coastal enclave were enjoying a second day of peace after the guns fell silent following a permanent cease-fire agreement that stipulated the easing of Israel-imposed restrictions of goods and movement into and out of the territory.

The truce, which went into force Tuesday evening, saw the warring sides agree to a “permanent” halt to seven weeks of bloodshed, in a move hailed by Washington and the United Nations.

Israel agreed to immediately lift restrictions on fishing, allowing boats to work up to six nautical miles from the shore, in a move that went into effect early Wednesday.

It also pledged to ease restrictions at the Erez and Kerem Shalom crossings into Gaza, to allow the entry of goods, humanitarian aid and construction materials.

Debate on crunch issues such as Hamas’ demand for a port and an airport, and the release of prisoners, as well as Israel’s calls for Gaza to demilitarize, have been postponed for another month, after which the sides will resume talks in Cairo.

For now, the focus is on catering for the immediate needs of the 1.8 million residents of the Gaza Strip, nearly half a million of whom were forced to flee their homes because of the fighting.

From early Thursday hundreds of lorries heaped with biscuits, sweets, soft drinks and diapers, as well as humanitarian aid supplies, heaved through the Kerem Shalom crossing, an AFP correspondent said.

But there were no construction materials arriving in Gaza, where countless homes have been destroyed by barrages of Israeli air, tank and artillery fire.

“The things that the people of the Gaza Strip were really waiting for – construction materials – have not got through,” Talib Abu Jaray, a Palestinian truck driver said angrily.

Israeli rights group Gisha said the stringent security checks currently in place would have to change in order to speed up the import of building materials, otherwise reconstruction would be impossible.

“Since December 2013, Israel has been allowing in construction material for international organizations, but it’s been a time-consuming and complicated process,” Gisha co-founder Sari Bashi told AFP.

“If Israel continues that approval process, it will take 100 years to rebuild Gaza,” she said, noting that the livelihoods of some 70,000 Gazans depended on work in the construction industry.

Senior Hamas official Mussa Abu Marzuq said the reconstruction was the “greater jihad.” He described the war as a “smaller jihad.”

A World Food Program aid convoy crossed into Gaza from Egypt Wednesday, the first since 2007, carrying food to last 150,000 people for five days, the Geneva-based agency said.

Hamas’ overall leader Khaled Meshaal, who resides in Qatar, said Thursday that the latest war would not be the last round of conflict between the two, but was a “milestone to reaching our objective.”

“This is not the end. This is just a milestone to reaching our objective, we know that Israel is strong and is aided by the international community,” Meshaal said at a news conference in Doha.

“We will not restrict our dreams or make compromises to our demands,”

Also Thursday, Israeli police and volunteers found a body near a forest in Jerusalem while searching for a 23-year-old American student who went missing last week, but said no formal identification had yet been made.

Aaron Sofer, a Jewish seminary student from New Jersey, vanished Friday while walking in woods not far from Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust museum, Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.

There was no word on the condition of the body or possible clues surrounding the circumstances of the death.

In June, three Israeli seminary students, all teenagers, were kidnapped while hitchhiking in the occupied West Bank, some 30 km south of Jerusalem, and later found dead.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 29, 2014, on page 9.

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Summary

Vital humanitarian aid poured into Gaza Thursday as residents went about rebuilding their lives following a devastating 50-day war between Israel and Hamas that left over 2,000 dead.

It also pledged to ease restrictions at the Erez and Kerem Shalom crossings into Gaza, to allow the entry of goods, humanitarian aid and construction materials.

For now, the focus is on catering for the immediate needs of the 1.8 million residents of the Gaza Strip, nearly half a million of whom were forced to flee their homes because of the fighting.

There were no construction materials arriving in Gaza, where countless homes have been destroyed by barrages of Israeli air, tank and artillery fire.

A World Food Program aid convoy crossed into Gaza from Egypt Wednesday, the first since 2007, carrying food to last 150,000 people for five days, the Geneva-based agency said.


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