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A year later, Gaza not on way to recovery

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Gaza's scars have been frozen in place since Israel waged war a year ago to subdue Hamas and stop rockets from hitting its towns. Entire neighborhoods still lie in rubble, and traumatized residents can't rebuild their lives.

A man who lost two daughters and his home can't visit his surviving 4-year-old girl in a Belgian hospital because Gaza's borders remain sealed. A 15-year-old struggles to walk on her artificial limbs, while dozens of amputees still await prostheses.

Couples postpone marriage because not enough apartments survived three weeks of bombing and shelling. Thousands are homeless, and damaged systems mean electricity and water are sporadic. Untreated sewage pours into the Mediterranean.

A three-year blockade of Gaza imposed by Israel and Egypt makes any large-scale rebuilding impossible, because the embargo includes steel and concrete.

The unprecedented use of Israeli firepower against the Palestinians has had repercussions far beyond the pain inflicted on Gaza's 1.5 million people.

It emboldened Gaza's Hamas rulers by failing to topple them, and weakened their Western-backed Fatah rivals, whom Palestinians increasingly see as subordinate to Israel. It deepened the political split between Hamas-ruled Gaza and the Fatah-governed West Bank, making a unified Palestinian government even less likely.

Israel largely succeeded in stopping the rocket fire, and its towns and villages that lived under constant threat have blossomed. But the quiet is fragile, and bloody scenes in Gaza that filled TV sets and Web sites worldwide badly damaged Israel's international standing.

By the time a cease-fire took effect Jan. 18, more than 1,400 Gazans had been killed, among them hundreds of civilians, along with 13 Israelis.

A U.N. team and international human rights groups accused both Israel and Hamas of war crimes, including the deliberate targeting of civilians. Both sides denied wrongdoing.

Israeli politicians and generals must think twice before traveling abroad in case activist groups seek their arrest. Tzipi Livni had to cancel a London trip this month because she was foreign minister during the war and faced an arrest warrant.

Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are coming under tougher European criticism, and a Palestinian-led campaign to boycott goods made in settlements has gained momentum.

Israel insists it acted in self-defense after eight years of rocket fire, and most Israelis supported the war. Their hawkish mood helped right-wing leader Benjamin Netanyahu win an election months after the cease-fire.

For Gazans, prospects of a better life are dim. The only ones prospering seem to be Hamas politicians and smugglers tunneling under the sealed borders.

A flattened neighborhood close to Israel still looks as if the war ended yesterday. There, on a recent morning, young men hammered twisted metal out of mountains of broken concrete to be sold for small building ventures.

Gaza businessman Emad Khaldi uses mud bricks and ancient techniques, such as domed roofs that don't require steel support. He has completed one home and is building another.

For Khaled Abed Rabbo, rebuilding his family home is the least of his problems.

On Jan. 7, as Israeli tanks rumbled through his neighborhood, soldiers ordered him, his wife, mother and four children to leave the house, he said. After the women and children emerged waving a white cloth, a soldier opened fire, killing 2-year-old Amal and 7-year-old Soad, while 4-year-old Samar was left paralyzed, Abed Rabbo said.

Samar has been in Belgium for treatment for the past year accompanied by Abed Rabbo's wife, while he stayed with his 7-year-old son in a rented apartment.

Israel denies its soldiers targeted civilians. The military said it is still investigating Abed Rabbo's case and refused to comment further.

The father wants to travel to Belgium to see his wife and child. But Hamas told him he is not on the list of hardship cases allowed out of Gaza when Egypt opens its border every few months.

A year later, Gaza not on way to recovery 12/26/09 [Last modified: Thursday, December 24, 2009 8:06pm]
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