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GAZA: Palestinian Zeyad Abu Odah watched with a smile as his four-story home, destroyed in an Israeli airstrike during heavy fighting last May, was slowly rebuilt in the Gaza Beach refugee camp.
He is one of the lucky few. Only 50 of the 1,650 homes destroyed in an 11-day war between Gaza militants and Israel are being restored, sparking Palestinian frustration over the slow pace of reconstruction eight months after the end of the conflict .
“When things started to move, we started to feel better. In six to seven months, we will return home with our children and families,” said Abu Odah, 60, as construction workers put the finishing touches on the first floor.
Abu Odah’s extended family of 50 has been living in four separate houses since the conflict.
Gaza officials estimate that it will take $479 million to rebuild homes and infrastructure damaged during the war. Qatar and Egypt have each pledged $500 million for the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip, which is ruled by the militant group Hamas.
Naji Sarhan, Gaza’s deputy housing minister, said only $100 million had been made available so far and that, with Qatari funds, reconstruction had started on 50 of the 1,650 homes destroyed. Sarhan cited Israeli pressure, but did not give details.
“It is clear that the Israeli occupation is exerting political pressure and creating obstacles,” he told Reuters.
COGAT, the Israeli Defense Ministry’s liaison office with the Palestinians, did not respond to a request for comment.
Israel, which controls the main commercial crossing to Gaza, said the reconstruction would be linked to reaching an agreement for the handover of two Israeli civilians and the bodies of two Israeli soldiers believed to be held by Hamas.
But in an apparent attempt to reduce tensions with the group, it recently allowed more building materials into Gaza to rebuild homes destroyed or damaged in last year’s war.
Sarhan also pointed to the lack of Arab and broader international support for the reconstruction process beyond Qatar, Egypt and the United Nations.
“The reconstruction process is slow and does not meet our ambitions,” Sarhan said.
Israeli airstrikes partially damaged another 59,000 homes during the conflict, according to the Hamas-led government in Gaza. Some homes in Israel have been damaged by rockets launched by the Islamist Hamas and other militant groups.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency UNRWA, which helps two-thirds of Gaza’s two million people, has also helped repair damaged homes for refugees.
Egyptian bulldozers and engineers have started work in the northern Gaza Strip on the first of three major building projects funded by Cairo.
Sarhan said Egyptian “cities” would be home to nearly 4,000 families. There was no deadline for the completion of construction.
The towns would serve low-income people as well as people in difficulty and some of those who had lost their homes in the conflict, he added.

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