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Aid groups say world must push for end to Gaza blockade

45 organizations sign on to report that insists only open borders can ensure coastal Strip’s rehabilitation

A Palestinian woman hangs washing next to the rubble of her destroyed house, in the Shijaiyah neighborhood of Gaza City, Monday, March 30, 2015.  (AP/Khalil Hamra)
A Palestinian woman hangs washing next to the rubble of her destroyed house, in the Shijaiyah neighborhood of Gaza City, Monday, March 30, 2015. (AP/Khalil Hamra)

Reconstruction of thousands of homes and businesses destroyed in last summer’s Israel-Hamas war in Gaza has barely begun and living conditions in the territory have only worsened six months after donor countries pledged $3.5 billion for the task, a coalition of international aid groups said Monday.

The Association of International Development Agencies (AIDA) urged the international community to adopt a new approach to Gaza, including by pressuring Israel to lift its border blockade of the Hamas-controlled territory. The blockade, also enforced by Egypt, has been in place since Hamas seized Gaza in 2007.

The report signed by 45 aid groups said only open borders and a durable Israel-Hamas ceasefire can bring economic, social and political stability to Gaza. Otherwise, “a return to conflict — and the cycles of damage and donor-funded reconstruction that accompany it — is inevitable,” the report said.

Israel and Egypt say they need to maintain the closure because Hamas, shunned by much of the world as a terror group, poses a security threat. Israel has fought three wars with Hamas in the past six years, in part to try to halt repeated Gaza rocket fire on Israeli towns.

The 2014 war was the most devastating for Gaza’s 1.8 million people, killing more than 2,200 Palestinians — a majority of them civilians according to UN reports based on Hamas’s figures, about half of them fighters according to Israel. Seventy-two people were killed on the Israeli side, including 66 soldiers.

About 19,000 homes were destroyed or severely damaged in Gaza, according to the aid groups, while another 134,000 suffered some damage but are fit to live in. About 100,000 people are still displaced, living in UN schools, tents pitched on rubble or rented apartments and storefronts.

In October, donor countries and international organizations pledged $3.5 billion for Gaza. So far, only $945 million, or 26.8 percent, has been released, the report said.

“Six months after the donor conference, little tangible change has taken place on the ground in Gaza and living conditions for women, girls, men and boys continue to worsen,” the report said.

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