Winter brings fresh misery to Gaza war-hit

Updated 27 November 2014
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Winter brings fresh misery to Gaza war-hit

GAZA CITY: As the wind whistles through gaping holes in her ruined house, 62-year-old Suad Al-Zaza and her daughter huddle together for warmth on a bed made of a wooden door laid on breeze blocks.
“I wake up cold, I sleep on the bed, afraid that it will break. I’m covered with two blankets that we were given,” she says as rain drips through the ceiling inside the wreckage of her home in Gaza City’s Shejaiya neighborhood. “Before the war, I was happy, safe, comfortable in my life and now we are living in the middle of this destruction.”
Three months after an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire ended a bloody 50-day war between Israel and Hamas militants, more than 100,000 Gazans remain homeless and the much-hyped reconstruction has yet to begin.
And a fierce winter storm which has battered the region since Monday has brought further misery to tens of thousands of Palestinian families who are living in temporary shelters or in the rubble of their destroyed homes.
In Shejaiya, one of the worst-hit neighborhoods where huge areas were reduced to rubble by Israeli tank fire, there is no sign of any construction. But there are still those desperate enough to return home.
Ibtisam Al-Ijla, 46, sits on a filthy, battered sofa in the blackened shell of her former home as her husband huddles in the corner, prodding at a fire, their only source of heating.
Corrugated iron sheets cover holes in the front wall, and wires hold up dirty blankets to create a thin illusion of privacy.
“I’m really worried about the weather but there is nothing that I can do about it,” she tells AFP before the full force of the storm hits.
She and her husband fled barefoot at the height of the bombardment only to return to ruins.
With no money to rent elsewhere, they were forced to move back in.
Grubby bedding lies on the floor. Draughty and exposed to the driving rain, the house has no front door, no electricity and no running water.
The toilet is completely open to the crater of rubble out back.
Around 30 percent of homes in the territory of 1.8 million people are damaged or destroyed.
Palestinian housing minister Mufid Hasayneh said Tuesday’s delivery was “positive” but fell far short of what was needed.
“Israel is responsible for this. They control the crossing and the raw materials needed for reconstruction but they are only letting small quantities through,” Hasayneh told AFP.
He said at least 7,000 tons a day are required if Gaza is to be rebuilt within three years. Few Gazans believe even that long timeframe will be achieved. Most have lost faith that reconstruction will ever materialize.
Even those with a solid roof over their heads are struggling.
In Khuzaa 48 families are living in container homes donated as emergency accommodation by the United Arab Emirates. “We’ve got it better than a lot of people,” admits Sawsan Al-Najjar, 34.
Mohammed Al-Hilu, 62, is hunched over an industrial sewing machine, making tents to help the homeless get through the winter.
“The occupation will finish before we see reconstruction here,” he sniffs.
“The Jews are stupid to put pressure on us because it only pushes us toward resistance. They try to force us into a narrow space but the pressure will cause an explosion.”


Russia ‘trying to help Syrian refugees to return home’

Russian soldiers distribute aid in the central Syrian province of Homs. (File/AFP)
Updated 17 August 2018
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Russia ‘trying to help Syrian refugees to return home’

  • A buffer zone separates Syria to the east, from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights to the west
  • The Russian military police have set up four observation points along the demarcation line on the Syrian side of the buffer zone

MOSCOW: The Russian Defense Ministry said it was coordinating efforts to help Syrian refugees return home and rebuild the country’s infrastructure destroyed by the civil war.
Col. Gen. Mikhail Mizintsev said in a conference call that included Russian and Syrian officials that work is underway to rebuild dozens of Syria’s power stations, schools and other vital institutions.
In Damascus, Syrian Public Administration Minister Hussein Makhlouf pledged the regime would protect refugee property rights and grant returning refugees a year’s deferral from military conscription.
“The Syrian government is working to simplify procedures for refugees who return, repair housing and try to create new jobs,” Makhlouf said, adding that the authorities were also working to streamline legislation to facilitate refugee returns.
He dismissed as hostile “propaganda” claims that some refugees were facing arrests on their return.
Makhlouf called on Western nations to drop their sanctions against Damascus, introduced early in the seven-year conflict, in order to help post-war restoration and encourage the return of the refugees.
Mizintsev said that over 1.2 million of internally displaced Syrians and about 300,000 refugees have returned in the past two and a half years.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russian President Vladimir Putin might take part in a summit with the leaders of Turkey and Iran at the beginning of September.
The three leaders met in April at a summit in Ankara where they discussed developments in Syria.
With help from its Russian ally, President Bashar Assad’s regime has expelled fighters from large parts of Syria’s south since June.
Israel has repeatedly pledged to prevent Iran from establishing a military presence along its border. A series of airstrikes that killed Iranians inside Syria have been attributed to Israel.
A buffer zone separates Syria to the east, from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights to the west.
The Russian army’s Lt.-Gen. Sergei Kuralenko told reporters on an organized press tour this week how “stability” had returned to the buffer zone.
Apart from “a few problems with Daesh” in its southern tip, the demilitarized zone was “entirely under control of Syrian military police,” Kuralenko said.
“Everything is ready” for the return of UN troops, he said, after the peacekeepers were forced to withdraw in 2014.
After retaking most of the two southern provinces adjacent to the buffer zone, regime forces last month raised their flag inside, above the key border crossing of Quneitra.
The Russian military police have set up four observation points along the demarcation line on the Syrian side of the buffer zone, Kuralenko said, and plan to set up four more in the near future.
They are “willing to hand them over to the UN if it says it is ready to ensure the monitoring of the Golan alone,” he said.