KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza (Reuters) - Frustrated by the lack of outside help, the Islamist group Hamas has begun repairing roads in Gaza using cement and tar smuggled through a network of tunnels under the border with Egypt.
But Gazans and international officials said the work is a drop in the bucket, compared with the state of blockaded Gaza’s infrastructure and the extent of damage caused by Israel’s three-week military offensive last winter.
Workers in the southern Gaza Strip town of Khan Younis last week completed paving a road which collapsed last year under winter flooding forcing some residents to make a long detour.
Contractor Jehad al-Fara said he got bitumen from Egypt to make tar for the repair, a long process double the normal price.
Bitumen is not allowed into Gaza via Israeli-run crossings since Hamas took over the territory in 2007, routing forces loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas of the rival Fatah movement.
Israel blocks imports it suspects would be used for military purposes, such as making weapons or building defenses.
“We’re trying to get around the blockade,” Fara said. “The materials are insufficient but something’s better than nothing.”
Donor countries in February pledged more than $4 billion for the reconstruction of Gaza. But organized reconstruction remains on hold partly because of the Israeli blockade. Israel wants Hamas to release kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit before it yields any concessions. He has been held for 3 years.
Donor states also want to deal with a unified Palestinian authority but there is none. Rivals Hamas and Fatah are as deeply split as ever and this is another cause of delay.
In Gaza City, workers were paving part of a main road that has been broken for four years, using cement the Hamas-run government brought in via the smuggling tunnels.
Last year there were nearly 3,000 tunnels. The Israeli airforce bombed them and Egyptian security forces have flooded them and blown them up, but hundreds still operate.
The Israeli offensive in Gaza from Dec 27 to Jan 18, carried out with the stated aim of stopping Hamas rocket and mortar fire into Israel, destroyed thousands of houses, factories and government buildings — including Gaza’s main cement plant.
A United Nations agency said it would take a year to clear away the estimated 600,000 tonnes of rubble.
Ibrahim Rudwan of the Hamas-run Public Works Ministry says cement and bitumen were hauled through the tunnels from Egypt to repair some basic infrastructure.
“Eight months have passed since Gaza war and no one helped Gaza and therefore, we were forced to look for alternatives to help our own people,” he said. But “it is a drop in the ocean”.
In Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip, workers make clay bricks to rebuild a police station destroyed in the offensive.
“This is primitive. We used to work with cement, now there’s none so we build with clay,” said foreman Naser Abu Bilal.
Khaled Abdel-Shafi, adviser to the U.N. Development Programme, said the situation could get worse.
“It is not only reconstruction that is being hindered but the process of restoring the economy as a whole that will be more difficult,” he told Reuters.
Abdel-Shafi said 5,000 houses needed to be rebuilt, and dozens of schools required repair ahead of winter.
Editing by Douglas Hamilton and Samia Nakhoul