A Look At The Gaza Strip, 2 Months After A Devastating 11-Day War With Israel
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
It's been over two months since the end of a fierce 11-day war between Hamas and Israel. We're going to check in now on what's happened to address the devastation inside the Gaza Strip. Israeli airstrikes, if you recall, killed more than 250 people there and left thousands without livable homes. Rocket fire from Gaza killed 13 people in Israel, where leaders now want to keep militants from misusing reconstruction supplies. NPR's Daniel Estrin joins us now from Jerusalem to discuss where things stand. Hello.
DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Hi, Lulu.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So first, thousands of buildings in Gaza were damaged, many destroyed. So take us there. What's the situation like?
ESTRIN: Well, a lot of the rubble has actually been cleared away. Egypt did that. Hamas has repaired roads. Fuel is back in supply for electricity. But people are still dealing with their physical injuries, and there's a lot of trauma. The U.N. says hundreds of thousands of children there need mental health support and there's still a lot of destruction. About 1,600 apartments and homes were completely destroyed in the war. Many homeless families are living with relatives now. Water pipelines were damaged. A couple hundred thousand people still don't have piped fresh water.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So it's clear they need construction materials at least. What's the scale of what is needed there?
ESTRIN: The U.N., EU and World Bank looked into this. And they say Gaza needs almost half a billion dollars just for the short term for things like repairing infrastructure, homes, sanitation. Gaza needs short term jobs because they estimate that the conflict has pushed the unemployment rate up to 50%, which would be the highest Gaza has seen in decades. So a lot of money is needed, but so far, countries have only donated a sliver of the money that the U.N. is asking for. A U.N. official told me that the usual Western donor countries are hesitant to invest without assurances that another war is not around the corner. And then there's just something a lot more fundamental, which is that Israel is blocking construction materials from entering Gaza right now. Everything is held up by political negotiations.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Tell me about those negotiations exactly. I mean, what are the issues?
ESTRIN: One big issue is that Israel refuses to allow reconstruction in Gaza until Hamas hands over the bodies of two Israeli soldiers killed there several years ago plus two Israeli citizens believed to be alive who crossed into Gaza by themselves years ago and are still held by Hamas. There's another issue, which is that Israel is trying to renegotiate the way that Qatar sends millions of dollars a month to Gaza. Israel does not want that cash getting into Hamas hands. And then there's just a bigger question of, how do you actually carry out reconstruction in a place like Gaza, which is under blockade by Israel and Egypt? Israel and international countries want to make sure that if they send, you know, cement and materials to rebuild homes, that that doesn't get diverted to Hamas militants for them to make tunnels and rockets. Remember, Hamas fired thousands of rockets into Israel in the latest conflict. Most of them were intercepted by missile defenses but not all of them. And Israelis had to duck into shelters day after day. There is trauma in Israel too.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, and there's been a cease-fire in place. Is that solid, or are there concerns that, if negotiations don't progress, that thing that donors are worried about, another round of fighting could start?
ESTRIN: There are those concerns. The cease-fire is very tenuous. We've seen a few times where Palestinian militants have flown fiery balloons into Israel, setting fire to fields. And Israel has responded with some limited airstrikes. But right now, Israel's new government is this unstable coalition. Their interest is to stabilize Gaza, you know, relax restrictions gradually, just enough to reduce pressure to prevent a renewal of violence but not enough to advance big relief projects for Gaza, which could be politically controversial in Israel and could destabilize the Israeli government. And then there are just a lot of unanswered questions about what happened during the conflict. Human Rights Watch has raised questions. AP's building was targeted and still asking for an independent investigation.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR's Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem. Thank you very much.
ESTRIN: Thank you.
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