Winter brings fresh misery to Gaza war-hit

Updated 27 November 2014

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.”

Revealed: How Iran smuggles weapons to the Houthis

Updated 43 min 43 sec ago

Revealed: How Iran smuggles weapons to the Houthis

  • Captured gang tells of route to Yemen through base in Somalia

AL-MUKALLA, Yemen: A captured gang of arms smugglers has revealed how Iran supplies weapons to Houthi militias in Yemen through a base in Somalia.

The Houthis exploit poverty in Yemen to recruit fishermen as weapons smugglers, and send fighters to Iran for military training under cover of “humanitarian” flights from Yemen to Oman, the gang said.

The four smugglers have been interrogated since May, when they were arrested with a cache of weapons in Bab Al-Mandab, the strategic strait joining the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden.

In video footage broadcast on Yemeni TV, gang leader Alwan Fotaini, a fisherman from Hodeidah, admits he was recruited by the Houthis in 2015. His recruiter, a smuggler called Ahmed Halas, told him he and other fishermen would be based in the Somali coastal city of Berbera, from where they would transport weapons and fuel to the Houthis. 

In late 2015, Fotaini traveled to Sanaa and met a Houthi smuggler called Ibrahim Hassam Halwan, known as Abu Khalel, who would be his contact in Iran. 

This is a complex network that requires constant monitoring, hence the focus on maritime security.

Dr. Theodore Karasik, Security analyst

Pretending to be relatives of wounded fighters, Fotaini, Abu Khalel, and another smuggler called Najeeb Suleiman boarded a humanitarian flight to Oman, and then flew to Iran. They were taken to the port city of Bandar Abbas, where they received training on using GPS, camouflage, steering vessels and maintaining engines.

“We stayed in Bandar Abbas for a month as they were preparing an arms shipment that we would be transporting to Yemen,” Fotaini said.

On Fotaini’s first smuggling mission, his job was to act as a decoy for another boat carrying Iranian weapons to the Houthis. “The plan was for us to call the other boat to change course if anyone intercepted our boat,” he said.

He was then sent to Mahra in Yemen to await new arms shipments. The Houthis sent him data for a location at sea, where he and other smugglers met Abu Khalel with a boat laden with weapons from Iran, which were delivered to the Houthis.

Security analyst Dr. Theodore Karasik said long-standing trade ties between Yemen and Somalia made arms smuggling difficult to stop. “This is a complex network that requires constant monitoring, hence the focus on maritime security,” Karasik, a senior adviser to Gulf State Analytics in Washington, DC, told Arab News.

“The smuggling routes are along traditional lines of communication that intermix with other maritime commerce. The temptation to look the other way is sometimes strong, so sharp attention is required to break these chains.”