Can Iranian drone tech shift Middle East’s strategic balance of power?

Clockwise from left: Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, commander of US Central Command; drones on display at an undisclosed location in central Iran; Iranian military officials inspecting drones on display. (AFP/Iranian Military Office/File Photos)
Clockwise from left: Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, commander of US Central Command; drones on display at an undisclosed location in central Iran; Iranian military officials inspecting drones on display. (AFP/Iranian Army website/File Photos)
Short Url
Updated 26 May 2021

Can Iranian drone tech shift Middle East’s strategic balance of power?

Clockwise from left: Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, commander of US Central Command; drones on display at an undisclosed location in central Iran; Iranian military officials inspecting drones on display. (AFP/Iranian Military Office/File Photos)
  • Armed drones used by Iran-backed militias against US and partners constitute new form of asymmetric warfare
  • Iran’s drone program has identified chink in its opponents’ armor and is actively exploiting this vulnerability

IRBIL, IRAQ: The drone threat posed to US and coalition personnel by Iran-backed militias is growing, and defenses against such threats remain limited — particularly in the face of Tehran’s growing capabilities. That was the clear message delivered by the US military commander in the Middle East during his most recent visit to Iraq.

Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie’s warning came in the wake of a rash of drone attacks launched by Iran’s proxies and allied groups in the region against coalition positions and regional partners of the US, a development viewed by many as a sign of a shift in the strategic balance of power.

“We’re working very hard to find technical fixes that would allow us to be more effective against drones,” the US Central Command (CENTCOM) commander said. “We’re open to all kinds of things. The army is working it very hard. Still, I don’t think we’re where we want to be.”

Take the drone attack launched from Iraq in January that targeted Saudi Arabia. Or the explosives-laden drone strike in April that targeted the US troop base at Irbil International Airport inside the normally secure autonomous Kurdistan region, causing a large fire and damage to a building.

While the attacks did not cause major casualties, they nevertheless underscored the evolving nature of the threat, and Iran’s rapidly advancing drone capabilities.

The Iran-backed Houthi militia in Yemen has frequently used loitering munitions, also known as suicide drones, against Saudi Arabia’s civilian and military infrastructure, which appear to feature components based heavily on an Iranian design.

In the conflict in the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian group Hamas used kamikaze-type drones against Israel, which exhibited many similarities to the same Iranian design.

In what appears to be more than just a coincidence, a complex that houses a factory that makes Iranian drones suffered a major explosion just days after Israel claimed that Iran was providing drones to Hamas.

Sunday’s blast injured at least nine workers at the petrochemical factory in Isfahan. The Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Industrial Company, which makes a variety of aircraft and drones for Iranian and pro-Iranian forces, is located in the complex, owned by Sepahan Nargostar Chemical Industries.




A handout picture provided by the Iranian Army's official website on September 11, 2020, shows an Iranian Simorgh drone during the second day of a military exercise in the Gulf, near the strategic strait of Hormuz. (AFP/Iranian Army website/File Photo)

There was no independent confirmation of the cause of the explosion or the precise factory affected. Analysts pointed out that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had displayed on Thursday parts of a drone that he said were made by Iran and had flown over from Iraq or Syria.

A recent Reuters report suggests that Iran has changed its strategy in Iraq with regard to use of projectiles. Instead of relying on larger established Shiite militia groups to carry out proxy attacks against US and coalition forces, it is now relying on much smaller militia groups completely loyal to Tehran.

The regime reportedly took 250 of these fighters to Lebanon last year, where they were trained by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) advisers to fly drones and carry out rocket attacks. The result has been a spate of drone attacks, both within and originating from Iraq.

Weaponry of this kind can be difficult to defend against, even for US forces operating advanced air defense systems, according to experts.

“The use of weaponized drone systems in Yemen, or during the latest conflict in Gaza, is a blueprint for how drones will be used in conflict from this point forward,” Dr. James Rogers, of the Center for War Studies at the University of Southern Denmark, told Arab News.

“The ability to send multiple drones and missiles all at once means that even the most sophisticated defense systems can be saturated and overrun.”




An image grab taken from Kurdistan 24 TV channel on February 19, 2021 shows damage following a rocket attack two days ago targeting a military complex inside the Irbil airport that hosts foreign troops deployed as part of a US-led coalition. (AFP/Kurdistan 24/File Photo) 

Iran’s fingerprints are all over the recent proliferation of armed drones among non-state actors and militias throughout the Middle East. As Rogers notes, the distance and deniability afforded by the drone has made it “a valued tool” in Iran’s arsenal.

“The Iranian drone program has innovated with sophisticated, indigenously produced drones, which it supplies to regional allies,” he said.

“This broad diffusion of Iranian drone technologies makes it almost impossible to tell who conducted a lethal drone strike in the region, and thus who should be held responsible and accountable. This is only going to get more difficult.”

The designs Iran supplies are very similar to Tehran’s own models, notably the Ababil series. Variants of these drones have appeared in the Houthi and Hamas arsenals, and in that of Iran’s main regional proxy, the Lebanese Hezbollah.

The technology has the added benefit of being easily disassembled for covert transport and reassembly at its destination.

For example, an anonymous Iraqi official told the Associated Press news agency that the drone that targeted Riyadh in January was delivered to Iraqi militiamen “in parts from Iran … assembled in Iraq, and launched from Iraq.”




Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander Major General Hossein Salami at Tehran's Islamic Revolution and Holy Defence museum during the unveiling of an exhibition of what Iran says are US and other drones captured in its territory, in the capital Tehran on September 21, 2019. (AFP/File Photo)

The efficacy of the weapons in question has been augmented by recent advancements in commercial drone technology.

“Now a number of non-state actors have Iranian designs. They are able to produce their own systems, fitted with commercially available technologies, which they can then supply to their allies,” Rogers said. “In essence, the drone is out of the bag, and the threat is spreading.”

Iran is well aware it has found a chink in its opponents’ armor — and is actively exploiting this vulnerability.

“Using suicide drones is a way for Iran to score a serious hit on the US presence (in Iraq) by potentially taking out a high-value asset, which is very hard to do with a spray of unguided long-range rockets, while also being more discriminate and avoiding the risk of a serious kinetic US response,” Alex Almeida, an Iraq security analyst at the energy consultancy Horizon Client Access, told Arab News.

“I think it’s very likely the militias will use these larger fixed-wing drones in the future — if they haven’t already — including potentially for longer-ranged strikes outside Iraq.”

Almeida believes that the US has the “tools” to adequately defend its bases and forces from this drone threat, “even if they don’t seem to have performed effectively in recent attacks” at Irbil or Al-Asad.

“The issue is that if these attacks become more frequent, all US points of presence in Iraq, Syria, and eventually other locales in the region are going to require their own layered counter-drone defenses,” he said. 

“Iran is deliberately presenting a multi-layered threat, from conventional ‘dumb’ mortar and rocket fire to small quadcopter and larger fixed-wing drones. These defensive requirements impose their own additional costs on the US presence, which the Iranians are no doubt aware of.”




An image grab taken from Kurdistan 24 TV channel on February 19, 2021 shows damage following a rocket attack two days ago targeting a military complex inside the Arbil airport that hosts foreign troops deployed as part of a US-led coalition. (AFP/Kurdistan 24/File Photo)

For her part, Kirsten Fontenrose, Middle East security director at the Atlantic Council, believes drone training, technologically complex drone components and the blueprints for locally manufacturing drones are all provided by the IRGC to the militias it directs or arms across the Middle East.

“For the US and its partners in the region, the proliferation of more sophisticated Iranian drone designs made with commercially available Chinese parts requires a reassessment of what the US force presence should look like, what kinds of systems we prioritize developing, and how we train together,” she told Arab News.

Fontenrose said there are three key factors in countering such drone attacks. First is the direction of attack. “Drone detection systems do not always have a 360-degree range of detection,” she said. “If you incorrectly predict the direction from which a drone attack will come, your defenses may be facing away and never see it coming.”

Second, there are the flight guidance enablers on the drone. “You must know whether a drone is guided by GPS, or using cellular signals, or know the frequency it operates on, for example,” she said. “If you target the wrong enabler, you will not defeat the drone.”

Finally, there is the drone’s payload.




Drones during a ceremony in Iran's southern port city of Bandar Abbas. (AFP/Iran’s Revolutionary Guard via Sepah/File Photo)

“If you successfully counter and take over control of a drone that is flying at you, you must know whether it is carrying an explosive, a chemical agent, or a camera before you decide whether to bring it to you to investigate, land it in a populated area to prevent it reaching the target, or return it home possibly carrying sensitive information,” Fontenrose told Arab News.

The Biden team had signaled loudly even before it took office of its determination to find a pathway back into the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran. This stated objective has since translated into indirect talks in Vienna.

Strategic and defense experts believe Iran has been testing the US administration with calculated provocations in multiple theaters, partly in an effort to take the measure of President Joe Biden, and partly as a way to gain leverage in the nuclear negotiations.

Nicholas Heras, senior analyst and program head for State Resilience and Fragility at the Newlines Institute, says Iran’s defense establishment is “leaning into a strategy of utilizing drone forces to present asymmetric challenges to more technologically advanced state actor competitors.

“Iran is building best-in-class capabilities with the concept of drone swarms in the air and at sea, which is a skill set that worries US defense and intelligence officials who are required to protect US forces deployed to the Middle East,” Heras told Arab News.

“The IRGC is the global leader in disseminating the tactics, techniques and procedures for drone warfare to non-state actors, who can then execute highly sensitive attacks against Iran’s opponents while giving Iran the ability to deny that it ordered the attacks.”




This handout photo provided by Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) official website via SEPAH News on May 22, 2021 shows new combat drones dubbed "Gaza" in tribute to Palestinians, unvailed in the capital Tehran, hours after a ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian armed factions took effect. (AFP/Iran's Revolutionary Guard via Sepah News)

The IRGC’s preferred models of choice are kamikaze drones, which crash into their respective targets and explode on impact, since they are easy to assemble, easy to operate, easy to use for overwhelming swarm attacks, and very challenging to counter. Such drones are most likely what McKenzie has in mind.

“There is no one anti-air system that will work best against the drone warfare methods that the IRGC is teaching Iran’s partners and proxies,” Heras said.

“Countering Iran’s networked drone warfare requires active signals intelligence to identify operatives and drone manufacturing sites, and rapid reaction strikes to hit them before they get off the ground.”

The threat posed by drones to the US — and, by extension, to its regional partners — has become impossible to ignore even by an administration whose stated goal is to end America’s “forever wars” and focus on the threats from Russia and China.

“These small- and medium-sized (drones) present a new and complex threat to our forces and those of our partners and allies,” McKenzie told Congress in April.

“For the first time since the Korean War, we are operating without complete air superiority.”

---------------

Twitter: @pauliddon


For Iraqis back from Syria, life on hold in ‘rehabilitation’ camp

Women sew at the Jadaa rehabilitation camp for the displaced near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, on May 11, 2022. (AFP)
Women sew at the Jadaa rehabilitation camp for the displaced near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, on May 11, 2022. (AFP)
Updated 23 May 2022

For Iraqis back from Syria, life on hold in ‘rehabilitation’ camp

Women sew at the Jadaa rehabilitation camp for the displaced near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, on May 11, 2022. (AFP)
  • Around 30,000 Iraqis, including 20,000 children, remain stranded at Al-Hol, according to Iraq’s ministry of immigration

JADAA CAMP, Iraq: Awatef Massud is longing to reunite with her Iraqi family after years spent in Syria, but first she must do time in a vetting camp to ensure she has no links to Daesh.
The 35-year-old mother of five fled to neighboring Syria in 2014 to escape violence at home after the Daesh group swept across swathes of Syria and Iraq.
For four months now, since her return to Iraq, she has been living in the Jadaa camp, a compound near the northern city of Mosul presented by the authorities as a “rehabilitation” center for those coming back from Syria.
All the returnees were transferred from Al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria, which houses displaced families but also relatives of Daesh group, including foreign nationals.

A woman poses for a picture at the Jadaa rehabilitation camp for the displaced near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, on May 11, 2022. (AFP)

Massud is adamant that her husband was killed by Daesh. But she admits that her in-laws “were once part of the (Daesh) group.”
“We left (Iraq) because of the terrorism. They (Daesh) made us leave our houses, they forced those who refused to join them to leave,” she said.
Massud spent three years in Al-Hol with her five children.
Two of them are now with her in Jadaa, where they attend a public school, while the other three stayed behind with her in-laws at Al-Hol.
“I am waiting for their return so that I can reunite with my family” in the western Anbar region, she said.
More than 450 families live in Jadaa, a sprawling camp lined with blue tarp tents, where visitors must present an official permit to security guards before they are allowed in.
The camp is located south of Mosul, once an Daesh bastion before the group was defeated in 2017.

A woman looks on at the Jadaa rehabilitation camp for the displaced near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, on May 11, 2022. (AFP)

Some of the women questioned by AFP acknowledged links to Daesh, through their husbands or a relative, but others denied having had anything to do with the terrorist group.
As they await processing, the families try to keep a semblance of a normal life with the help of activities sponsored by UN agencies and NGOs.
Some women learn to sew while teenage girls attend classes about puberty. Younger boys and girls mingle in a small playground.
Camp administrator Khaled Abdel Karim told AFP that only “a very limited” number of families at Jadaa had been influenced by Daesh ideology.
“This camp was not set up to detain or isolate the families, it is a transit stop,” said Abdel Karim.
Experts, he said, help families overcome the “shame linked to Daesh,” while others assist them with preparing the documents they need to get through the vetting process and resume life outside the compound.
“Through our daily contacts, we see that our activities are not being rejected,” the official told AFP.

Boys sit near tents at the Jadaa rehabilitation camp for the displaced near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, on May 11, 2022. (AFP)

“When it comes to the mixing between men and women, or the type of clothes they wear, there is nothing to signal extremist thinking,” he added.
Until they are allowed to go back home, Jadaa residents receive family visits four times a month. But before they can return to their hometowns, tribal elders must hold council and give their approval.
“Families with perceived affiliation to (Daesh)... often find their return blocked by security actors, experience community rejection and stigmatization, and are at high risk of revenge attacks and violence,” a World Bank report released in January said.
“At the same time, it is common for people living in the area of return to fear that the return of families they believe supported or continue to support (Daesh)... will destabilize their communities and create new risks for security and social relations,” it added.

Around 30,000 Iraqis, including 20,000 children, remain stranded at Al-Hol, according to Iraq’s ministry of immigration.
Earlier this month, Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein said his country was determined to repatriate all the families stuck in the Syrian camp after “security checks” are completed.
But he also urged the international community to help Iraq set up “re-integration programs” for Jadaa’s residents, most of who are women and children.
Over the past several months, more than 100 families have been able to leave Jadaa and reunite with their families in Iraq.
Shaima Ali, 41, is among those still waiting for that day.
But her greatest fear is that residents of her hometown in the Qaim border region with Syria will reject her.
“They say we’re a part of Daesh. It’s true my husband was a member of the group. But that was him, not me,” she said.
“If only I could get out” of the camp, said Ali, who lived for five years in Syria.
“I’ve got no future left, perhaps, but I’ve got two daughters and I want a future for them.”

 


UN envoy praises ‘potential’ of Syria prisoner amnesty

United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen talks to reporters in the Syrian capital Damascus, on May 22, 2022. (AFP)
United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen talks to reporters in the Syrian capital Damascus, on May 22, 2022. (AFP)
Updated 22 May 2022

UN envoy praises ‘potential’ of Syria prisoner amnesty

United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen talks to reporters in the Syrian capital Damascus, on May 22, 2022. (AFP)
  • The regime’s Justice Ministry has said hundreds of inmates had been released, and a military official, Ahmad Touzan, told local media this week that the amnesty would cover thousands, including those who are wanted but not detained

DAMASCUS: UN special envoy Geir Pedersen has welcomed a general amnesty aimed at freeing thousands of Syrians convicted on terrorism charges.
President Bashar Assad has decreed several amnesties during the country’s devastating 11-year war, but the latest in April was the most comprehensive related to terrorism charges since the conflict began, rights activists said.
Pedersen, speaking to reporters in Damascus after a meeting with the regime’s Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad, said he had been briefed “in quite some detail” on the latest measure.
“I am very much looking forward to being kept informed on the progress on the implementation for that amnesty,” Pedersen said before talks on a new constitution for Syria are to resume in Geneva.
“That amnesty has potential, and we are looking forward to see how it develops,” Pedersen said.
The regime’s Justice Ministry has said hundreds of inmates had been released, and a military official, Ahmad Touzan, told local media this week that the amnesty would cover thousands, including those who are wanted but not detained.
Touzan refused to disclose the number of inmates freed, saying “numbers are changing by the hour.”
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor, which relies on a large network of sources inside Syria, says around 1,142 inmates have so far been released across the country under the amnesty, with hundreds more expected.
In the next few days Syria’s warring parties are to hold the latest round of constitutional talks in Switzerland, under a process that began in 2019.
It is hoped the talks can pave the way toward a broader political process.
Pedersen said he is “hopeful that this will be a positive meeting that can help bring us forward so that we can start to see... some confidence building measures,” Pedersen said.
Syria’s civil war erupted in 2011 after the violent repression of protests demanding regime change.
The war has left around half a million people dead and displaced millions.
Throughout the war, the UN has been striving to nurture a political resolution.


Four killed as Jordanian army thwarts drug smuggling attempt from Syria

Jordanian soldiers patrolling along the border with Syria to prevent trafficking, on February 17, 2022. (AFP)
Jordanian soldiers patrolling along the border with Syria to prevent trafficking, on February 17, 2022. (AFP)
Updated 22 May 2022

Four killed as Jordanian army thwarts drug smuggling attempt from Syria

Jordanian soldiers patrolling along the border with Syria to prevent trafficking, on February 17, 2022. (AFP)
  • Hezbollah resorting to narcotics trade to secure funding after US sanctions hit Iran

AMMAN: The Jordanian army announced it had killed four people who attempted to smuggle “large amounts” of drugs into the country from Syria.

A source from the Jordanian Armed Forces said that troops on Jordan’s eastern borders with Syria opened fire on people who attempted to infiltrate the kingdom, killing four of them and injuring others.

The source said that the infiltrators were forced to retreat into Syrian territory.

“After inspecting the area, 181 palm-sized sheets of hashish, 637,000 Captagon narcotic pills, and 39,600 tramadol pills were found and handed over to the concerned authorities,” the source told Arab News.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights in London said that six people were injured in the operation with some of them in a critical condition.

It said that one of those killed by the Jordanian army was the leader of a group that works in the narcotics industry in southern Syria and had “strong” ties with Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah.

The operation on Sunday was the latest since Jordan announced a crackdown on drug smuggling from Syria and a change in rules of engagement to curb what it described as a “dramatic increase” in drug trafficking from its neighbor.

Jordan has warned that Syria was becoming a narco-state, posing cross-border threats to Jordan, the region, and the rest of the world.

The JAF has recently said that a total of 361 smuggling attempts from Syria were foiled in 2021, leading to the seizure of about 15.5 million pills of narcotics of different types.

It foiled more than 130 smuggling attempts from Syria in 2020 and seized about 132 million Captagon pills and more than 15,000 sheets of hashish.

Describing the figures as “dramatically high,” a military source, who requested anonymity, told Arab News that “Illicit drug cultivation and manufacture has become a growing industry in Syria.”

According to the Syrian news website Enab Baladi, drug smuggling operations are most active in the southern regions of Daraa and Al-Suwayda.

Most of the smuggling routes are controlled by armed Bedouin tribes that have affiliations inside Jordan, the news website quoted sources as saying.

Experts say the strong presence of the militant organization Hezbollah in Syria and the expansion of its drug trafficking operations are the main reasons for the war-torn country becoming a narco-state and for the increase of drug smuggling into Jordan, Arab Gulf states, and Europe.

In recent remarks to Arab News, Fayez Dweiri, a retired major general and military analyst, said Hezbollah had resorted to the narcotics trade to secure funding after the US sanctions on Iran.

“There is an established illicit drugs industry for Hezbollah in Beirut’s Dahieh Al-Janubiya and in the Shiite stronghold of Baalbek,” he said.

Hezbollah “has relocated some of its drug factories to Aleppo and other Syrian regime-controlled regions,” Dweiri said.

“The US sanctions on Iran have hit Hezbollah hard, obliging Tehran’s most funded proxy to look for other sources of revenues,” he said.

According to a report by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Hezbollah has significantly expanded and institutionalized its drug trafficking enterprises, which now generate more money than its other funding streams.

The think tank said that Hezbollah’s global narcotics industry began in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley in the 1970s, using well-established smuggling routes across the Israel-Lebanon border.

 


Chief of Yemen’s Presidential Council backs extending UN-brokered truce

Rashad al-Alimi. (AFP)
Rashad al-Alimi. (AFP)
Updated 22 May 2022

Chief of Yemen’s Presidential Council backs extending UN-brokered truce

Rashad al-Alimi. (AFP)
  • Protesters block road out of Taiz to highlight relentless Houthi siege

AL-MUKALLA: The president of Yemen’s Presidential Leadership Council, Rashad Al-Alimi, vowed on Saturday to support current efforts by international mediators to extend the UN-brokered truce, fight corruption and unify military and security units.  

In a televised speech on the eve of the 32nd anniversary of Unification Day, Al-Alimi said the council supports the UN and US Yemen envoy’s continuing activities to renew the truce, which is set to expire on June 2. He called upon the world to pressure the Houthis to stop breaking the truce and implement its provisions, including lifting their siege of Taiz city.

Yemenis fill their jerrycans with water from a well at a makeshift camp for displaced people in the province of Hodeidah. (AFP)

“In the name of members of the Leadership Council, we affirm our continuing support to the tireless efforts of the UN and US envoys to extend the humanitarian truce,” Al-Alimi said, noting that the truce would pave the way for peace, save lives and rescue the country from starvation.

He stressed that the 2021 Saudi initiative to end the war in Yemen would be the cornerstone of plans to achieve peace in Yemen.

“We also renew our adherence to the initiative of the brothers in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, considering it a just basis for a comprehensive peace process.”

Al-Alimi came to power in April when Yemen’s former President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi ceded authority to the eight-man Presidential Leadership Council that would run the country and start peace talks with the Houthis.

On Saturday, the new president pledged to address economic problems in Aden and the other provinces, fight corruption, boost revenues and bring together different armed groups under the council’s command based on the Riyadh Agreement.

“We will firmly move forward to unify the military and security establishment.”

The truce that came into effect on April 2 has largely reduced violence and deaths across the country, despite hundreds of violations by the Houthis and allowed commercial flights to leave Sanaa airport as at least a dozen fuel ships entered Hodeidah port.

The Yemen president’s pledge to support the renewal of the truce came as the Yemeni government and the Houthis are preparing to participate in discussions on opening roads in Taiz and the other provinces.

Houthi media said on Sunday that their delegation left Sanaa for the Jordanian capital on a UN plane.

A government official told Arab News on Saturday that their negotiators were told to get ready to travel to Amman for the meeting.  

In the besieged city of Taiz, dozens of people on Sunday arranged a rare protest near a blocked road that links with Hodeidah province, west of the city, to draw attention to the Houthi siege.

The posters stood in a line on the road, carrying posters that called for ending the Houthi assault.

“Taiz has paid a heavy humanitarian bill due to the siege of the Houthi militia,” read one of the posters.

The Houthis have been besieging the city of Taiz since 2015 to force government troops that defend the city to surrender.


Slow rebuilding frustrates Gaza year after conflict

Slow rebuilding frustrates Gaza year after conflict
Updated 22 May 2022

Slow rebuilding frustrates Gaza year after conflict

Slow rebuilding frustrates Gaza year after conflict
  • Only 20 percent of damaged housing repaired since end of fighting in 2021

GAZA CITY: Delayed rebuilding efforts in Gaza have frustrated locals, with many still living in temporary accomodation a year after the end of fierce fighting.

Ayman Dahman has lived with his family for more than a year in a rented house after his home was destroyed during the Palestinian-Israel conflict in May last year.

Dahman does not know when his old apartment — which he is still paying installments on — will be reconstructed.

The Gaza Strip has witnessed four conflicts, the last of which was in May 2021. The fighting that year lasted for 11 days, during which about 1,700 housing units were completely destroyed.

“I bought my apartment some years before the war, and I still pay the installments from my monthly salary. Now I live with my wife and two daughters and two sons in an apartment I rented after the war; we don’t know when we will return to our home again,” Dahman said.

Dahman and his family used to live in a five-storey building inhabited by 10 families, in the north of Gaza City.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Refugees paid rent allowance to 154 Palestinian families whose homes were completely demolished during the war, including the Dahman family.

Naji Sarhan, undersecretary at the Ministry of Public Works in Gaza, said that no more than 20 percent of the damaged properties have been reconstructed since the end of the war last year.

“What has been accomplished and what is underway in the housing sector so far does not exceed 20 percent of the completely destroyed houses, and 70 percent of the partially damaged houses,” Sarhan said at a press conference in Gaza on Sunday.

He added: “There are no commitments for the reconstruction of the high-rise and multi-storey residential buildings that were bombed and demolished by the occupation during the aggression of last May.”

Last year, Egypt and Qatar pledged $1 billion to rebuild the post-war Gaza Strip.

“Many friendly countries began pledging to rebuild Gaza after the aggression on the city last year, led by Egypt with a grant of $500 million, and Qatar with a grant of $500 million, in addition to some sporadic grants of limited amounts provided by countries and institutions,” Sarhan said.

Egypt also began construction on Gaza’s 1.8-kilometer-long Corniche Street, three residential communities comprising 117 buildings with a total of more than 2,500 housing units, in addition to a construction plan for a bridge in the Shujaiya area, and an open tunnel in the Saraya neighborhood.

Meanwhile, Qatar has started construction of 200 housing units, in addition to the restoration of 11 residential buildings that were partially damaged. It is also repairing a number of destroyed street intersections with a pledge to continue the reconstruction process, Sarhan said.

Fears over new rounds of fighting between Israel and Hamas have mounted amid tensions over preparations by Israelis to conduct a flag march on May 29 in Jerusalem. A similar move led to the outbreak of violence last year.

Ismail Haniyeh, head of Hamas’ political bureau, said during a conference held in Gaza: “We are following the threats to storm the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque on May 29, or organize a march of flags.

“I warn the enemy against committing such crimes and such steps.”

Palestinians in Gaza are divided over support for a new confrontation.

Supporters of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and some supporters of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine express a willingness to confront Israel over flag marches. Others fear that any conflict would only add to the economic woes of the Gaza Strip.