Palestinian ministers in Gaza to kickstart reconstruction

About 50 officials, including eight ministers, met to discuss reconstruction of the territory devastated by a 50-day war with Israel.
A bus carrying Palestinian ministers arrives in Beit Hanoun after entering the Gaza Strip through the Erez border crossing with Israel yesterday. Eight unity government ministers are in Gaza to talk about the reconstruction of the war-torn territory. Mohammed Abed / AFP
A bus carrying Palestinian ministers arrives in Beit Hanoun after entering the Gaza Strip through the Erez border crossing with Israel yesterday. Eight unity government ministers are in Gaza to talk about the reconstruction of the war-torn territory. Mohammed Abed / AFP

GAZA CITY, PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES // Palestinian officials arrived in Gaza on Monday to kickstart reconstruction talks in the second meeting since the unity government was formed in June.

About 50 officials, including eight ministers, met to discuss reconstruction of the territory devastated by a 50-day war with Israel.

The unity government was the fruit of an April reconciliation deal between the Palestinian rivals, the Islamist Hamas movement and the Fatah organisation of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.

But the government is still not properly functioning due to deep differences.

Mr Abbas has repeatedly complained that Hamas has prevented the unity government from asserting its authority in Gaza, where the Islamists have been dominant since ousting Fatah loyalists in 2007.

Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007, leaving the Palestinians divided between two governments. Mr Abbas’s Palestinian Authority governs in the West Bank.

Monday’s meeting was the second time officials from the West Bank have travelled to Gaza since the government was formed. Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah visited Gaza in October for a trip that was largely a formality. Mr Hamdallah did not join Monday’s delegation. A spate of bombings last month targeting the property of Fatah officials in Gaza prompted Mr Hamdallah to cancel a scheduled visit.

The visit, due to last several days, aims to launch “the actual start of reconstruction” in Gaza, said government spokesman Ihab Bseiso.

Israel’s devastating 50-day war with Hamas in July and August this year killed nearly 2,200 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and 73 on the Israeli side, most of them soldiers.

The crowded territory of 1.8 million people suffers from chronic electricity shortages and a lack of building materials to repair damage to thousands of homes. In addition, thousands of civil servants of the former Hamas government are demanding salaries.

An international plan to rebuild Gaza has been repeatedly delayed due to Palestinian infighting that has prevented the new unity government from taking control of border crossings with Israel. Hamas is shunned by Israel and the international community as a terrorist group.

The Palestinian government says rebuilding the battered territory, which has experienced three wars in six years, will cost around US$4 billion (Dh14.7bn).

The new government is expected to hold meetings in both Gaza and the West Bank. Mr Bsaiso said ministers would discuss a number of issues, including electricity shortages and postwar construction.

But it appeared unlikely they would resolve disagreements over the most serious issues, including the border crossings, salary payments to Hamas employees and the continued control over Gaza by Hamas security forces.

As the West Bank ministers entered Gaza, dozens of protesters held signs saying “stop evading your responsibility toward Gaza”.

Hamas official Salah Bardawil said reconciliation must be “based on partnership” and said Hamas must play a role in operating the border crossings. “Without this, their visit is considered a manoeuver,” he said.

Meanwhile in the occupied West Bank, a 17-year-old Palestinian boy was shot dead by Israeli troops during a stone-throwing incident near the northern city of Nablus on Monday.

The army said soldiers had fired warning shots before opening fire on a group throwing stones at Israeli civilians.

Palestinian security officials said the stones had been thrown at military vehicles.

The teenager was killed near the Tapuah settlement, south of Nablus, and a 19-year-old was wounded in the same incident, they added.

Around 20 Palestinians have been killed by the army in the West Bank since June, according to an AFP tally.

* Agence France-Presse and Associated Press

Published: December 30, 2014 04:00 AM

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