Palestinian-designed, self-build homes seen as key to Gaza’s recovery

From a project with Islamic Relief where new housing units were added to allow horizontal expansion for extended families in rural and marginalized areas in the Gaza Strip. (Supplied)
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From a project with Islamic Relief where new housing units were added to allow horizontal expansion for extended families in rural and marginalized areas in the Gaza Strip. (Supplied)
From a project with Islamic Relief where new housing units were added to allow horizontal expansion for extended families in rural and marginalized areas in the Gaza Strip. (Supplied)
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From a project with Islamic Relief where new housing units were added to allow horizontal expansion for extended families in rural and marginalized areas in the Gaza Strip. (Supplied)
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Updated 11 June 2021

Palestinian-designed, self-build homes seen as key to Gaza’s recovery

From a project with Islamic Relief where new housing units were added to allow horizontal expansion for extended families in rural and marginalized areas in the Gaza Strip. (Supplied)
  • Thousands of Palestinian homes were damaged or destroyed in May’s 11-day war between Israel and Hamas 
  • Salem Al-Qudwa’s sustainable, minimalist homes aim to reconstruct the physical and social fabric of Gaza 

DUBAI: For Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip, “home” is a concept that rarely conjures images of safety and stability.

Israel and Hamas have fought four short but savage wars since the militant group seized control of this sliver of territory in 2007.

With each wave of violence comes a fresh cycle of destruction and reconstruction, a “recycling of pain,” as Mohamed Abusal, an artist based in Gaza, told Arab News.

At the end of May, tens of thousands of Palestinians returned to their homes in Gaza to inspect the damage following 11 days of fighting — the gravest escalation in hostilities since the 2014 war.




Tens of thousands of Palestinians returned to their homes in Gaza to inspect the damage following 11 days of fighting and bombardment by Israeli forces. (AFP/File Photos)

According to Palestinian officials, at least 2,000 housing units were destroyed and 15,000 damaged by the latest bout of violence, further degrading the already fragile humanitarian situation in Gaza, long squeezed by an Israeli and Egyptian blockade.

Gaza had not yet recovered from the 2014 war when the fighting resumed on May 10. Older buildings now stand like crumbling tombstones alongside newly shattered edifices. It is a sight all too familiar to residents of the territory.

To help redefine Gaza’s ravaged urban topography, Palestinian architect Salem Al-Qudwa has developed a series of designs for self-build homes, which are flexible, green and affordable.

The innovative design means the units can be built on sand or rubble and easily slotted together, allowing extended families to live under one roof — a potential lifeline for those widowed or orphaned by the recent fighting.

“These are homes that can empower the Gazan community,” said Al-Qudwa, a fellow of the Conflict and Peace with Religion and Public Life program at Harvard Divinity School.




Palestinian architect Salem Al-Qudwa

“The Israelis destroyed multi-story buildings and threw their inhabitants into poverty. They have lost everything. This is the problem right now, this endless cycle of destruction and reconstruction, but, more importantly, destroying the physical as well as social fabric of Gazan society.”

Al-Qudwa was appalled to see a repeat of the havoc wreaked on Gaza in 2014.

“Those attacks pushed Gaza back by several decades, destroying the infrastructure of many parts of the city and also the social fabric, which is crucial in relation to housing,” he said. “Now the conflict in 2021 is pushing Gaza back 50 years.”

The 2014 war destroyed around 18,000 homes, leaving an estimated 100,000 Palestinians homeless. However, the temporary wooden structures built by international aid agencies involved in post-war reconstruction were not conducive to the needs of large families and did not provide adequate temperature controls.

Instead of consulting with locals on how to proceed with Gaza’s reconstruction, aid agencies turned to foreign architects, “coming to replace our social structure with a mud house, a sandbag or a wooden shelter,” Al-Qudwa said.

COST OF GAZA WAR

* 77,000 - Gazans internally displaced by May conflict.

* 2,000 - Number of housing units destroyed.

As governments and relief agencies once again pour money into Gaza’s reconstruction effort, Al-Qudwa fears the same flimsy structures will be built, preventing residents from obtaining long-lasting homes that represent stability, permanence and hope for the future.

Al-Qudwa, who was born in 1976 to a Palestinian family in Benghazi, Libya, returned to Gaza at the age of 21 to study architectural engineering at the Islamic University of Gaza. He went on to obtain a Ph.D. from the Oxford School of Architecture at Oxford Brookes University in the UK.

In 2020 he moved to the US with his Palestinian-American family after being awarded a fellowship at Harvard Divinity School.

While working for Islamic Relief Worldwide, Al-Qudwa established the Rehabilitation of Poor and Damaged Houses Project, which designed homes ranging from modest single-room units to spacious houses with shared courtyards, for more than 160 low-income families.

“I helped them build a kitchen, a bathroom and a bedroom and for them it was as if they had a castle,” he said.




House Design Prototype for the Gaza Strip allowing future vertical incremental expansion for families affected by the conflict. (Supplied)

The project was so transformative that it was shortlisted for the World Habitat Award and in 2018 was granted a commendation.

“The project undertaken with Islamic Relief allowed me to work towards characterizing reconstruction projects in terms of their feasibility,” Al-Qudwa said. It also taught him the value of taking into account what communities really want in the form of long-lasting, sustainable housing.

“It led me to ascertain the need for a simple architecture as well as a revaluation of traditional techniques for construction, in line with the participation of inhabitants in the process of designing and building their houses.”

Gaza’s minimalist architecture is a product of its dire circumstances. But Al-Qudwa views his homeland’s rudimentary urban landscape, and even its shortage of building materials, as an opportunity for a more positive social transformation.

Part of the challenge in Gaza stems from the Israeli blockade in place since 2007, which limits access to certain building materials.




Al-Qudwa views his homeland’s rudimentary urban landscape, and even its shortage of building materials, as an opportunity for a more positive social transformation. (Supplied)

Before the occupation, limestone was a common material used in local architecture. It is now far too expensive to import from the West Bank, making concrete from Israel the most popular material of choice.

Al-Qudwa is putting together designs for three five-story homes made of concrete, each with proper insulation and built on strong foundations — in marked contrast with the emergency and transitional structures on offer from aid agencies.

Unlike the monotonous block structures usually wrought from concrete, Al-Qudwa uses the material creatively, enlivening his designs with nods to traditional Arabic motifs, incorporating lattice screens, brick patterns, and even shared courtyards.

Each structure features a row of columns, which allow for additional floors to be added at a later date. “These are ‘columns of hopes’ because with columns you have the idea that something will be added to the structure within a certain period of time,” Al-Qudwa said.

As he has shown through his designs, there are many ways to create low-cost homes that are attractive and also preserve a sense of community, even when resources are scarce.




As Palestinians pick up the pieces from the latest carnage, Al-Qudwa’s work offers a glimmer of hope for a future that is more permanent, both structurally and psychologically. (Supplied)

Moreover, his new prototypes use solar water-heating units, gray-water recycling, and rainwater harvesting systems — all design elements crucial in a region that has long suffered from power cuts and water scarcity.

Al-Qudwa’s sustainable designs run against the grain of other local reconstruction strategies, most notably Rawabi, meaning “The Hills” in Arabic, the first city planned for and by Palestinians in the West Bank near Birzeit and Ramallah.

Stretched across 6.3 square kilometers, the monotonous, block-style structures are arranged in rows, similar to those found in Israeli settlements thrown up in the West Bank.

As Palestinians pick up the pieces from the latest carnage, Al-Qudwa’s work offers a glimmer of hope for a future that is more permanent, both structurally and psychologically.

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Twitter: @rebeccaaproctor


Iran likely had failed rocket launch, preparing for another

Iran likely had failed rocket launch, preparing for another
Updated 23 June 2021

Iran likely had failed rocket launch, preparing for another

Iran likely had failed rocket launch, preparing for another
  • Satellite photos from Planet Labs Inc. and Maxar Technologies show preparations at the spaceport on June 6
  • As with other failed launches, Iranian state media did not acknowledged it took place

DUBAI: Iran likely conducted a failed launch of a satellite-carrying rocket in recent days and now appears to be preparing to try again, the country’s latest effort to advance its space program amid tensions with the West over its tattered nuclear deal.
Satellite images, a US official and a rocket expert all confirmed the failed launch, earlier this month, at the Imam Khomeini Spaceport in Iran’s Semnan province. The attempt comes as Iran’s space program has suffered a series of high-profile losses, while its paramilitary Revolutionary Guard runs its own parallel program that launched a satellite into orbit last year.
As with other failed launches, Iranian state media did not acknowledged it took place. Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment early Wednesday.
Satellite photos from Planet Labs Inc. and Maxar Technologies show preparations at the spaceport on June 6. Those images include what appears to be fuel tanks alongside a massive white gantry that houses a rocket, while scientists fuel it and prepare for launch. Before the launch, workers tow the gantry away to expose the rocket.
The number of fuel tanks, based on their size, appear to have been enough to fill the first and second stages of an Iranian Simorgh rocket, said Jeffrey Lewis, an expert at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. The Simorgh is a satellite-carrying rocket that has been launched from that same area of the spaceport, he said.
Later satellite images on June 17 showed a decrease in activity at the site. Lewis said analysts believe Iran launched the rocket at some point in that window.
“Nothing had blown up. There wasn’t a giant stain — like they had dumped the fuel — and the vehicles had kind of just moved around,” he said. “The overall level of activity at the site was much lower. So to our mind, that looked like a launch.”
CNN, which first reported on the failed launch, quoted Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Uriah Orland saying that “US Space Command is aware of the Iranian rocket launch failure which occurred early June 12.” Orland did not elaborate. The Pentagon and US Space Command did not immediately respond to a request for comment early Wednesday from The Associated Press.
It wasn’t immediately clear why Iran would have picked June 12 for a launch as Tehran typically schedules such launches for national commemorations. However, it did come in the run-up to Iran’s presidential election last week, in which the Islamic Republic had hoped to boost turnout.
On Sunday, a new satellite image from Planet Labs showed renewed activity at the site. The image shows a mobile platform previously used to secure a Simorgh rocket at the gantry, a support vehicle seen at previous launches and a new line of fuel containers lined up at the site. Lewis said the equipment suggests that another launch is imminent.
Over the past decade, Iran has sent several short-lived satellites into orbit and in 2013 launched a monkey into space. The program has seen recent troubles, however. A failed launch this month would be the fourth in a row for the Simorgh program. A separate fire at the Imam Khomeini Spaceport in February 2019 also killed three researchers, authorities said at the time.
A rocket explosion in August 2019 drew even the attention of then-President Donald Trump, who later tweeted what appeared to be a classified surveillance image of the launch failure. The successive failures raised suspicion of outside interference in Iran’s program, something Trump himself hinted at by tweeting at the time that the US “was not involved in the catastrophic accident.” But Lewis said such failures are common, especially when trying to put objects carefully into orbit around the Earth.
Meanwhile, the Guard in April 2020 revealed its own secret space program by successfully launching a satellite into orbit. The head of the US Space Command later dismissed the satellite as “a tumbling webcam in space” that wouldn’t provide Iran vital intelligence — though it showed Tehran’s ability to successfully get into orbit.
The launch comes after the landslide election of Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi, the country’s hard-line judiciary chief tied to the mass execution of thousands in 1988. The vote saw the lowest turnout in a presidential election since Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Raisi will take over from Iran’s outgoing President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate who guided Tehran into its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the accord in 2018, setting in motion months of tensions in the wider Mideast that continue today. Diplomats in Vienna now are negotiating a way for both Iran and the US to re-enter the deal, which saw Iran agree to limit its nuclear enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
The US has alleged such satellite launches defy a UN Security Council resolution and called on Iran to undertake no activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.
Iran, which long has said it does not seek nuclear weapons, previously maintained that its satellite launches and rocket tests do not have a military component. US intelligence agencies and the International Atomic Energy Agency say Iran abandoned an organized military nuclear program in 2003.
The Simorgh, however, is far too large and too slow to fuel to be a good carrier for a nuclear-tipped weapon, Lewis said.
“It’s a butter knife,” he added. “Could you stab someone with a butter knife? Yeah, but that’s not really the tool.”


90 detained Egyptians in Libya released

90 detained Egyptians in Libya released
A doctor from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) checks a rescued migrant's identity before administering a Coronavirus test, in Ben Guerdane, southern Tunisia, Saturday June 12, 2021. (AP)
Updated 23 June 2021

90 detained Egyptians in Libya released

90 detained Egyptians in Libya released
  • Mohamed Tharwat Selim said the Egyptian Embassy in Tripoli succeeded in resolving the matter in coordination with relevant Libyan authorities

CAIRO: Ninety Egyptians who had been detained at the headquarters of illegal immigration in Tripoli since last Friday have been released, said the head of Egypt’s Diplomatic Mission in Libya’s capital.
Mohamed Tharwat Selim said the Egyptian Embassy in Tripoli succeeded in resolving the matter in coordination with relevant Libyan authorities.
He thanked the Libyan interior minister, officials and local authorities for their efforts, which Selim said reflect the close relations between the two countries. He added that most of those released were from Minya Governorate.


Egyptian leader backs Greek PM on eastern Med issues

Egyptian leader backs Greek PM on eastern Med issues
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi receives Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis ahead of their meeting in Cairo on Tuesday. (AP)
Updated 23 June 2021

Egyptian leader backs Greek PM on eastern Med issues

Egyptian leader backs Greek PM on eastern Med issues
  • El-Sisi reiterated Egypt’s solidarity with Greece, especially regarding the principles of noninterference in internal affairs

CAIRO: Egypt will stand in solidarity with Greece against any threat to its sovereignty, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi said.

The Egyptian president was speaking at a joint press conference with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis following talks between the two leaders in Cairo.
El-Sisi reiterated Egypt’s firm position in the eastern Mediterranean, especially regarding the principles of noninterference in internal affairs, stressing solidarity with Greece.
“Relations with Greece are a model for cooperation and integration at the regional level, as Egypt and Greece share distinguished friendship ties,” he said, adding that Egypt’s position in the eastern Mediterranean region is consistent, and respects the sovereignty and territorial waters of countries.
He also stressed the necessity of disbanding militias in Libya, saying that Egypt and Greece agreed on the need to start an effective political movement in the country following the exit of all foreign forces and mercenaries.
El-Sisi and Mitsotakis also discussed supporting the Libyans in conducting elections on the scheduled date of Dec. 24.

FASTFACT

The two leaders agreed on the need to enhance tripartite cooperation between Egypt, Cyprus and Greece, and to achieve maximum benefit from that cooperation. El-Sisi and Mitsotakis also discussed supporting Libyans in conducting elections on the scheduled date of Dec. 24.

The two leaders agreed on the need to enhance tripartite cooperation between Egypt, Cyprus and Greece, and to achieve maximum benefit from that cooperation. They stressed the importance of the East Mediterranean Gas Forum, which would open up prospects for cooperation and investment between the countries of the region in the field of energy and gas.
The two sides stressed the importance of reaching a fair and balanced legal agreement on filling and operating the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam being built by Ethiopia in a manner that achieves the interests of the downstream countries and maintains regional stability.
Extensive talks were held between Egypt and Greece, co-chaired by Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly and his Greek counterpart.
Madbouly voiced his hopes of strengthening bilateral relations between the two countries, especially in the field of energy, electrical interconnection across the island of Crete, and working with the Greek government to export natural gas surplus to Europe.
He referred to recent efforts made by the Egyptian government to provide a healthy and safe environment for tourists, in order to restore the incoming tourism movement, calling on the Greek side to strengthen tourism cooperation between the two countries.
Mohamed Shaker, minister of electricity and renewable energy indicated that he is working in coordination with the Ministry of Petroleum to finalize the study of the proposed memorandum of understanding for cooperation with Greece in this regard.
Tarek El Molla, minister of petroleum and mineral resources, expressed his aspiration to sign a long-term cooperation agreement in the field of gas, and expressed his readiness to receive all the details of the Greek side’s needs in this regard.


Battle for Marib deals severe blow to Houthis

Battle for Marib deals severe blow to Houthis
Updated 23 June 2021

Battle for Marib deals severe blow to Houthis

Battle for Marib deals severe blow to Houthis
  • Yemeni government vows to defeat Houthis as fighting rages outside Marib
  • Austrian FM: Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia are unacceptable

ALEXANDRIA: Fighting between Yemeni loyalists and Houthi rebels seeking to take the strategic northern city of Marib has killed 90 fighters in two days, pro-government military sources said on Tuesday.

The Iran-backed Houthi militia on Monday night mounted a fresh assault on the internationally recognized government’s forces in Al-Mashjah and Al-Kasara areas, west of Marib, triggering heavy clashes that continued until Tuesday afternoon and claimed the lives of dozens of combatants.

The Ministry of Defense said that dozens of Houthis were killed in the fighting and that they lost a significant amount of military equipment.

Loyalist officials told AFP that pro-government forces had repelled Houthi attacks north of the city in clashes that left 63 rebels and 27 loyalist fighters dead since Monday.

The Ministry of Defense said the Houthis lost a significant amount of military equipment.

State media on Tuesday broadcast videos showing government forces exchanging mortar and heavy machine gun fire with the Houthis as a large convoy of vehicles rushed to reinforce government troops.

Bodies of dead Houthis were also seen scattered on the battlefield.

Yemeni Army commanders and government officials said that massive military support, logistics and air cover from the Arab coalition have shored up Yemeni government forces and helped thwart relentless Houthi assaults on Marib.

Lt. Col. Rashad Al-Mekhlafi, a military official at the Yemeni Army’s Moral Guidance Department, told Arab News that military operations and airstrikes in Marib have greatly worn down the Houthis, with the rebels losing thousands of fighters, including many senior commanders.

“The Houthi militia has been largely depleted. The Arab coalition warplanes played a vital role in striking its reinforcements and weapons depots and destroying its equipment,” Al-Mekhlafi said.

To seize control of Marib’s oil and gas fields and power stations, the Houthis resumed a major military offensive in February.

The effort has forced thousands of Yemenis to flee their homes amid warnings from local and international aid organizations that the Houthi invasion of Marib would aggravate the humanitarian crisis and trigger a large displacement, with the city hosting thousands of internally displaced people.

The government and military commanders have vowed to push ahead with military operations in Marib until the Houthis are defeated and justice is brought to rebel leaders who ordered attacks on civilians across Yemen.

Yemen’s official news agency reported on Monday that Prime Minister Maeen Abdul Malik Saeed telephoned senior military commanders in Marib to renew the government’s support to troops and allied tribesmen in their “decisive” battle against the Houthis, vowing to punish the Iran-backed force for disrupting peace efforts to end the war and killing and abducting Yemenis.

The Yemeni Army’s chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Sagheer bin Aziz, also said that its troops and tribesmen have high combat skills and morale.

He said they follow military plans and that “the force of arms” alone would put an end to the Houthi militia’s takeover of power.

“They would destroy the capabilities of the Iranian Houthi terrorist militia and force them to surrender by force of arms, as that is the only way to restore the state and end the suffering of our people,” Bin Aziz tweeted.

 

Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia denounced

Meanwhile, Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg on Tuesday condemned the relentless Houthi attacks on civilians in Saudi Arabia, describing them as “unacceptable.”

Saudi Arabia’s air defenses intercepted and destroyed a booby-trapped drone launched by the militia toward southern Saudi Arabia, state TV reported.

The drone was targeting the city of Khamis Mushayt. The Arab coalition said this was the latest example of the Houthis deliberately targeting civilians and civilian targets.

At a press conference with his Saudi counterpart, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, Schallenberg said Vienna supports developments taking place across Saudi Arabia in several areas.

Prince Faisal said the Houthi militia has regularly rejected initiatives for a complete ceasefire, and always resorted to escalating the situation.


Mother and four daughters killed as they looked for fuel amid Lebanon’s petrol shortage

Mother and four daughters killed as they looked for fuel amid Lebanon’s petrol shortage
Updated 22 June 2021

Mother and four daughters killed as they looked for fuel amid Lebanon’s petrol shortage

Mother and four daughters killed as they looked for fuel amid Lebanon’s petrol shortage
  • Family were preparing for journey to Beirut airport to meet father as he returned from working abroad
  • Lebanon facing vast queues for petrol amid fuel shortage and economic crisis

BEIRUT: A Lebanese mother and her four daughters were killed when their car was hit by a military vehicle as they searched for fuel amid Lebanon’s petrol shortage.

The family were preparing to travel from southern Lebanon to Beirut airport this week to pick up the daughters’ father, who was expected to fly home from working abroad.

Fatima Koubeissi, her twins Tia and Lia, 4, and her two other daughters Aya, 13, and Zahra, 17, were killed when the military vehicle hit their car from behind on Monday night. Another relative, Hussein Zein, 22, who was driving their car, died on Tuesday from his injuries.

The sisters had not seen their father, Imad Hawile, since he went looking for a job in Liberia five months ago, their uncle Qassim Hawile told Arab News.

Amid a worsening economic crisis, Lebanon is suffering massive fuel shortages with long queues outside petrol stations leading to traffic jams on nearby roads.

Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces [ISF] traffic control section reported a number of recent accidents caused by petrol queues.

The family from Al-Sharqeyye village went searching for petrol on Monday afternoon to prepare for the journey to the airport on Wednesday.

“We have not been able to find petrol across the south,” Qassim said.

ISF’s traffic control said the accident involved five cars and took place on the Jeyye-Saida highway.

A cousin of Fatima told Arab News that the accident happened because of a “vehicle that came in the opposite direction of the road wanting to bypass a queue outside a petrol station.
“They (the mother and four daughters) died on the spot,” he said.

Qassim said his brother contracted malaria during his first month in Liberia and then a second time “so he decided to return for better medication.”

“We did not want my brother to know that his family died in the crash but he saw the news and images on Facebook,” said Qassim.

He said the funeral was expected to take place on Thursday.

The accident happened when their driver saw two BMWs rammed into each other so he stopped but the military vehicle came and hit them from the back, sending it into a pick-up truck, Qassim said.
Civil Defense and Red Cross teams attended the scene and moved the injured and the dead to nearby hospitals.

Petrol stations have been constantly low on subsidized petrol for weeks, but shortages worsened in June as people’s fears of rationing and shortages intensified, leading to a large number of petrol stations closing down.

A number of fistfights, heated arguments and shootings have taken place between irritated drivers.
Last week, three people were injured in an accident outside a petrol station where cars were queueing on the highway connecting Beirut to southern.