Optimism in Gaza amid indications of reconstruction acceleration

Optimism in Gaza amid indications of reconstruction acceleration
A disabled Palestinian man walks past the rubble of buildings destroyed by Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City in May. Billions are needed to rebuild the city. (File/AFP)
Short Url
Updated 24 October 2021

Optimism in Gaza amid indications of reconstruction acceleration

Optimism in Gaza amid indications of reconstruction acceleration
  • Billions of dollars needed to prepare engineering plans for the rebuilding of the war-torn strip

GAZA CITY: Some hope has returned to Gaza resident Ayman Dahman upon learning that his apartment building, completely destroyed during Israeli airstrikes last May, would be reconstructed.

Dahman has despaired over the past months, but Egyptian and Qatari statements regarding the acceleration of the reconstruction process have restored optimism.

Dahman and his family of six lived in a five-story residential building inhabited by 10 families, in the north of Gaza City.

After its destruction, he moved to live with his son in a small two-room apartment. Once the war ended, he relocated to a rented house, which was paid for by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.

UNRWA provided $1,500 in rent allowance and $500 for the purchase of basic home furnishings for each victim who lost his or her home during the war.

Dahman said that the Ministry of Public Works and Housing in Hamas-run Gaza contacted him a few days ago to prepare the engineering plans for the building in preparation for reconstruction.

On Oct. 19, the Egyptian Committee for the Reconstruction of the Gaza Strip announced the launch of its first development project in Gaza: the construction of Al-Rasheed Street in Beit Lahia, northern Gaza.

At the same time, head of the Qatari Reconstruction Committee Mohammed Al-Emadi, currently in Gaza, announced that the coming days would witness an acceleration in the reconstruction process.

Hamas had received Egyptian promises during its leadership’s visit to Cairo earlier this month to speed up the pace of reconstruction and to provide trade and economic facilities at the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt.

After the war, Egypt pledged a grant of $500 million as a contribution to reconstruction and sent engineering delegations to remove rubble in preparation.

Undersecretary of the Ministry of Public Works and Housing Naji Sarhan, said that the Egyptian grant projects include the construction of three residential cities in Beit Lahia; Jabalia, north of Gaza; and the Al-Zahra area, south of Gaza City.

According to the agreement, these three cities will include 2,000 housing units, giving priority to poor and low-income people. The construction of bridges and roads also will be supported.

Sarhan said that Egyptian officials promised — during meetings in Cairo with an official delegation from Gaza about two weeks ago — to start the reconstruction of the residential high-rises soon.

Egyptian crews had contributed to removing the rubble of damaged high-rises, as well as the construction of the first residential city in northern Gaza, he added.

The talks with the Egyptians, according to Sarhan, resulted in an agreement to operate the largest number of local contracting companies.

It was also agreed to import all the materials needed for reconstruction from the Rafah crossing to ensure the operation of local factories and to provide facilities for the movement of contractors and businessmen through the crossing.

The local authorities estimated the direct losses in the Gaza Strip during the war at $479 million.

Sarhan said that the direct losses are related to the destruction that afflicted the housing and infrastructure sector, as 1,500 housing units were destroyed, and 880 units were severely damaged. Hundreds of units were moderately and slightly damaged, with the value of reconstruction estimated at $145 million.

A great deal of damage was also caused to the infrastructure, including public buildings, roads, energy, communications and sanitation, with reconstruction estimated at $293 million.

Losses were also incurred in the sectors of economy, trade, health, education and agriculture, apart from indirect losses caused by the war.

Sarhan estimates that Gaza needs $2 billion in order to revive it after many years of wars and siege.

Palestinians see the latest Egyptian move as coming within a context of coordination with the US administration, which hopes to establish stability in Gaza.

A few days before the Hamas meetings in Cairo, Gaza reconstruction was discussed during talks between Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan.

Hamas-affiliated columnist Majed Al-Zibda believes that the recent Egyptian meeting with Hamas is consistent with the vision of the US administration, which desires to contain Gaza and ensure stability there so to avoid any deterioration that could lead to new confrontations.

Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported earlier that Egypt and the US were pressuring Hamas and the Palestinian Authority to work on forming a new unity government with the aim of pushing forward long-term stability and the reconstruction of Gaza.


Crops at Beirut port silos to be composted, burned after insect infestation found

A member of the French military works at the damaged site of the massive August 4, blast in Beirut's port area, in Beirut on August 31, 2020. (AFP)
A member of the French military works at the damaged site of the massive August 4, blast in Beirut's port area, in Beirut on August 31, 2020. (AFP)
Updated 04 December 2021

Crops at Beirut port silos to be composted, burned after insect infestation found

A member of the French military works at the damaged site of the massive August 4, blast in Beirut's port area, in Beirut on August 31, 2020. (AFP)
  • Crops at Beirut port silos to be composted, burned after insect infestation found

BEIRUT: Tons of wheat, corn and barley stored at the Port of Beirut since the devastating explosion that rocked the city 16 months ago are to be disposed of as they are no longer fit for consumption, it has been found.

As temperatures change, mold, weevils and other insects have made it impossible to reach the contents of silos at the site without protective equipment; according to the World Health Organization, mold produces mycotoxins “which can cause a variety of adverse health effects and pose a serious health threat to both humans and livestock … ranging from acute poisoning to long-term effects such as immune deficiency and cancer.”

Before the blast, the port’s silos contained about 45 tons of wheat, barley and corn, most of which was lost during the explosion. Minister of Environment Nasser Yassin said that six to seven tons remain at the site.

Lab tests run on samples of wheat in cooperation with the ministries of economy, agriculture and environment, the American University of Beirut, Saint Joseph University, and the French Embassy, which brought in experts to assist, showed that the crops “are suitable for neither human nor animal use.”

In August, a year after the explosion, the remaining grains were removed from their silos and stored in the open air to reduce the risks of accidental fires in the hot weather, but resulted in hastening the demise of the crops as fit for consumption.

A committee formed under the government of former Prime Minister Hassan Diab failed to reach a solution.

Yassin told Arab News: “We decided to ferment these quantities and turn them into compost to be distributed to farmers for free, or turn them into industrial firewood to be given to the Lebanese Army to heat its units in the high mountains, or donate them to needy families living in cold areas.”

He added: “Turning them into compost allows us to avoid any procedure that produces heavy metals, and we started with this process with the help of MAN Group, which obtained funding from France to treat organic waste resulting from the explosion, and had signed the contract with the Lebanese state in May.”

The grain is set to be moved to the municipality of Zahle, which has a landfill site able to treat waste and transform it into compost and firewood.

Yassin noted: “We seek to produce 3,000 tons of compost and 3,000 tons of industrial firewood. We have so far been able to produce 500 tons of compost, which is an organic fertilizer and will be distributed free of charge to farmers and we have finished producing 1,000 tons of industrial firewood through special presses.

“Indeed, this type of firewood does not last long while it burns, but we hope that it will alleviate the distress of people who cannot buy diesel for heating during winter, and curb the phenomenon of cutting trees to secure firewood for homes as an alternative to diesel.”

The silos at the port absorbed about 20 percent of the blast wave, which resulted from storing 1,750 tons of ammonium nitrate at the port alongside seized explosives. Over 220 people died, more than 6,500 were injured and the city’s waterfront was destroyed.

Experts who initially examined the site stressed that the wheat silos, which were severely damaged, would need to be be demolished because they were on the verge of collapsing.

Former Economy Minister Raoul Nehme said in November 2020: “The government will demolish the silos due to public safety concerns.”

However, the Lebanese authorities are yet to take action.

The wheat silos are made up of a giant 48-meter concrete structure built between 1968 and 1970, with a huge storage capacity of over 100,000 tons.

Once considered a key element in Lebanon’s food security, the silos have today become a symbol of the catastrophe.


Air defence test sparks loud blast near Iran nuclear site

Air defence test sparks loud blast near Iran nuclear site
Updated 40 min 51 sec ago

Air defence test sparks loud blast near Iran nuclear site

Air defence test sparks loud blast near Iran nuclear site
  • Iranian news agencies earlier reported a large explosion in the sky above Natanz
  • Fars news agency quoted its reporter as saying short blast was heard accompanied by an intense light in sky

TEHRAN: An air defence test triggered a loud explosion near Iran's Natanz uranium enrichment facility Saturday as nuclear talks with major powers stumble.
The explosion was heard in the skies over the Iranian city of Badroud, just 20 kilometres (12 miles) from the nuclear plant, the official IRNA news agency reported.
"Badroud residents heard the noise and saw a light which showed an object had just blown up in the skies over the city," a witness told IRNA.
But the air defence commander for the Natanz region told state television there was no cause for concern.
"An hour ago, one of our missile systems in the region was tested to assess the state of readiness on the ground, and there is nothing to fear," the commander said.


Iran stonewalling JCPOA talks to advance nuclear program, say US officials

Iran stonewalling JCPOA talks to advance nuclear program, say US officials
Updated 47 min 3 sec ago

Iran stonewalling JCPOA talks to advance nuclear program, say US officials

Iran stonewalling JCPOA talks to advance nuclear program, say US officials
  • Officials: Iran was preparing to double enriched uranium capacity and nuclear capabilities during past five-and-a-half months

CHICAGO: Senior US State Department officials accused Iran of not taking negotiations on limiting nuclear technology seriously and using the revival of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action as an excuse to expand its nuclear program.

The officials conceded in a teleconference with news outlets including Arab News Saturday that although President Joe Biden views Iran’s conduct as “not acceptable,” the administration is focused on reviving talks rather than pursuing tougher measures or an expansion of sanctions.

During the past five-and-a-half months, they said, while telling JCPOA negotiators in Vienna that they are “getting ready,” Iran was instead preparing to double their enriched uranium capacity and nuclear capabilities.

“We have been waiting patiently for five-and-a-half months. The Iranian government said that it needed time to resume the talks on a mutual return to compliance of the JCPOA, and I think what we have seen over the last week or so is what ‘getting ready’ meant for them,” one official said.

“It meant continuing to accelerate their nuclear program in particularly provocative ways, and their latest provocation as reported by the IAEA Wednesday, while we were still in the middle of talks, was to prepare for the doubling of their production capacity of 20 percent enriched uranium at Fordo.

“What ‘getting ready’ meant was to continue stonewall the IAEA despite efforts by all of the P5+1, (and) constructive efforts to find a way forward between Director General Grossy and Iran.”

The P5+1 refers to the UN Security Council’s five permanent members — China, France, Russia, the UK and the US, plus Germany.

Iran is seeking to “walk back” all past compromises during the unproductive six rounds of talks, while asking for more concessions, he said.

“In other (words), not come back with a serious proposal about how we could resume mutual compliance with the JCPOA but raising issues that go beyond the JCPOA,” the official said.

Although US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has said in the past that Biden will not “accept the situation in which Iran accelerates its nuclear program and slow walks its nuclear diplomacy,” the State Department outlined no plans to step up pressure to force Iran to take the talks seriously.

He said he is unsure when JCPOA talks in Vienna will resume, adding: “The date of those talks, the date of that resumption, matters far less to us than whether Iran will come with a serious attitude prepared to negotiate seriously. If they are, they will find a very serious counterpart on the other side, which is the United States, but we will have to wait and see if they take that position. But so far, what we have seen in Vienna in their nuclear program and in their dealings with the IAEA unfortunately suggest the opposite.”

The State Department official brushed aside questions regarding China, which has violated the sanctions by purchasing Iranian crude oil.

“If Iran kills the JCPOA, then other sanctions would come into effect,” he said, declining to detail those actions.

Asked if Biden needed to “calm” the concerns of Israel, which has a huge cache of nuclear weapons, or if there are concerns Israel might respond with a military strike to any Iranian increase in activity, the official said: “We don’t view our job as to calm Israel down ... Our job is to work together towards our common objective. 

“Israel is sovereign country and makes its own decisions, but we think we are stronger when we act together.”


Israeli police kill Palestinian assailant in Jerusalem: police, state media

Israeli police kill Palestinian assailant in Jerusalem: police, state media
Updated 04 December 2021

Israeli police kill Palestinian assailant in Jerusalem: police, state media

Israeli police kill Palestinian assailant in Jerusalem: police, state media
  • The assailant used a knife to stab a man near the city's Damascus Gate and then "attempted to stab a border police officer,"
  • A spokeswoman for the Palestinian Red Crescent said police killed the Palestinian assailant

JERUSALEM: Israeli security forces shot dead a Palestinian man in annexed east Jerusalem on Saturday after he stabbed an Israeli civilian and tried to attack police, Israeli police and Palestinian medics said.
The assailant used a knife to stab a man near the city’s Damascus Gate and then “attempted to stab a border police officer,” police said in a statement.
“Police neutralized the stabber,” it added.
A spokeswoman for the Palestinian Red Crescent said police killed the Palestinian assailant.
Israel’s Magen David Adom emergency service said the stabbing victim was a 20-year-old religious Jewish man who was taken to hospital in “moderate to severe condition.”
The assailant was not immediately identified. Israeli public radio said he was a 25-year-old from the northern West Bank town of Salfit.
Footage filmed by a bystander near the Damascus Gate and widely shared on social media showed a man in jeans lying prone on a sidewalk as police fired shots at him.
The official Palestinian state news agency Wafa said the man was killed “when Israeli police officers opened fire on him at point blank range.”
Mohammed Hamadeh, Jerusalem spokesman for Islamist group Hamas which controls the Gaza Strip, decried the “deliberate shooting of a wounded young man lying on the ground.”
After the shooting, police fired tear gas near the Damascus Gate to disperse Palestinians gathered there.
The incident came after a Hamas-affiliated gunman fatally shot a Jewish tour guide in Jerusalem’s Old City before police killed him last month.
Days before that, security forces shot dead a 16-year-old assailant in the Old City who they said stabbed two police officers.
The Old City is located in east Jerusalem, which Israel has occupied since 1967 and which Palestinians claim as the capital of their future state.


Yemen, US officials accuse Iran of imperiling peace efforts in Yemen

Yemen, US officials accuse Iran of imperiling peace efforts in Yemen
Updated 04 December 2021

Yemen, US officials accuse Iran of imperiling peace efforts in Yemen

Yemen, US officials accuse Iran of imperiling peace efforts in Yemen
  • Yemeni FM: Iranians using Yemen as a blackmail card to extract concessions during nuclear talks
  • Lenderking: Houthi military activities in Yemen, attacks on Saudi Arabia prove militia is not willing to end war

AL-MUKALLA: Yemeni and American officials have accused the Iranian regime of perpetuating the war in Yemen through arming and training the Houthis, renewing demands that the Houthis abandon military activities and comply with peace efforts. 

Speaking on Friday during Mediterranean Dialogues, an annual high-level gathering sponsored by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and the Italian Institute for International Political Studies in Rome, Yemen’s Foreign Minister Ahmad Awad bin Mubarak and the US special envoy to Yemen Tim Lenderking agreed that the Iranians played a negative role in Yemen and the Houthis were not serious about striking a peace deal to end the war. 

The foreign minister said that the Iranians were using Yemen as a blackmail card to extract concessions during nuclear talks and to settle scores with their opponents. 

“Iran is using Yemen as a bargaining chip and they want to get something in Yemen while they are holding talks in Vienna,” the Yemeni minister said, arguing that the Houthis’ hard-line beliefs that they had a heavenly mandate to rule Yemen stopped them from accepting peace initiatives. 

“They believe that they are superior and they have a divine right to rule Yemen. It is rooted in their ideology . . . we want them to admit that all Yemenis are equal.”

The US Yemen envoy said that the Houthis escalating military activities in Yemen — mainly in the central province of Marib — and their cross-border attacks on Saudi Arabia, proved that they were not willing to end the war, and repeated accusations that Iran was seeking to overthrow the Yemeni government. 

“It is clear that the Houthis intend to try to bring down the Yemen government. The Iranians I believe would like to see the same . . . the Marib offensive should stop if the Houthis are serious about peace,” Lenderking said, adding that the Houthis “forcibly recruit” young men in densely populated areas under their control through intimidation and pressure to compensate for the high casualties they have suffered during their offensive in Marib. 

“The Houthis are really going against the current world opinion here and this is seen as a sort of a test case here of Houthis’ willingness to move away from a military solution into a political solution,” Lenderking said about the Marib offensive. 

Bin Mubarak warned that the Houthi occupation of Marib would bring an end to the political process in Yemen and have an impact on the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. He urged international donors to help his government in Aden address the country’s economic problems, including the rapid devolution of the Yemeni riyal. 

“Marib is a cornerstone. If the fighting continues in Marib and the Houthis think they can make a military victory . . . this will collapse the entire peace process and it will have a negative impact on everything.”

Separately, the Arab coalition announced on Saturday that it carried out 11 air raids on Houthi targets in the central province of Marib, killing 60 Houthis and destroying seven military vehicles.  

The announcement comes as fierce fighting continues in the main battlefields outside the city of Marib as government troops battle relentless attacks by the Houthis.  

Intensive airstrikes by the Arab coalition supported Yemeni government troops on the ground and thwarted Houthi attempts to reinforce their forces.