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Qatar says to begin rebuilding 1,000 homes in Gaza

GAZA (Reuters) - A Qatari official visiting a Gaza neighborhood heavily bombed in last summer’s war with Israel said on Tuesday the Gulf Arab state had begun a project to rebuild 1,000 homes as part of a $1 billion aid pledge.

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Mohammad al-Amadi, head of the Qatari Committee to Rebuild Gaza, said that earlier in the day Israel had allowed four truckloads of cement into the Gaza Strip so that the planned construction of the dwellings could begin.

“Today we are starting the $1 billion (effort),” Amadi told reporters as he stood in the rubble of a hospital destroyed during the 50-day Gaza war.

Cogat, the Israeli military office that coordinates the movement of goods into Gaza, said the cement shipments were being handled by the Western-backed Palestinian Authority. The PA exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank, which Israel took in a 1967 war, while its Islamist rival Hamas rules Gaza.

Palestinian and United Nations officials said 130,000 houses were demolished or damaged, largely by Israeli air strikes and shelling, during the July-August war in the densely populated coastal territory. “We want more countries to come and build Gaza. Gaza suffered from previous wars,” Amadi said.

U.N. officials say internal Palestinian divisions have blocked PA oversight of building material imports into Gaza.

Late last year, to try to speed up reconstruction in Gaza, the United Nations agreed with Israel and the PA on a mechanism for closer monitoring of critical materials like cement and iron going into the territory.

Israel has tightly limited the flow of concrete, cement, iron bars and other materials into Gaza, calling them “dual use” items that could have a military purpose if they were seized by Hamas to rebuild tunnels used to launch attacks.

At a donors’ conference in Cairo in October, some two months after the latest Hamas-Israel war ended in an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire, Qatar said it would provide $1 billion in reconstruction assistance for Gaza.

In all, some $5.4 billion was pledged at the meeting, but little of that has reached Gaza.

Qatar is a major ally of Hamas and currently hosts the group’s chief political leader, Khaled Meshaal.

Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Mark Heinrich