GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – The European Union's new foreign affairs chief urged Palestinians in the Gaza Strip Saturday to work together to begin reconstruction of the war-shattered territory in earnest.
On her first visit to Gaza, Federica Mogherini also said peace talks between Israel and the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority must resume as a prelude for Gaza's reconstruction. The coastal territory was severely damaged during last summer's 50-day war between Israel and Gaza's militant Hamas rulers.
Palestinian estimates say that as much as $6 billion is needed to repair the damage sustained during the conflict, which destroyed or damaged as many as 100,000 homes. Reconstruction has been slow because aid hasn't arrived as expected and the rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah have been wrangling for control in Gaza.
"We have to do something urgently. We don't have time to waste," Mogherini said in a press conference at a U.N.-run school acting as a shelter for some 300 displaced families. She added that the reconstruction should be moving forward "more efficiently, more effectively and quickly than it's now."
Hamas, deemed a terrorist group by the United States and most of the West, is still widely in control of Gaza despite its reconciliation deal with President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party. As a result of the pact, a national consensus government was formed in June, but has not yet extended its governance fully to Gaza.
Israel has not yet fully opened its crossing points into Gaza because Abbas' representatives have yet to take full control at these crossings.
Israel is concerned that under the guise of reconstruction Hamas will use the freer flow into Gaza to rearm itself for another onslaught of rockets toward Israel that sparked the summer war. It is also demanding strict monitoring of building materials going into Gaza to prevent Hamas from using these materials to repair a tunnel network it built and used to infiltrate Israel during the July-August fighting. Israel only ended its ground incursion after ascertaining that it had sufficiently destroyed the tunnel threat against it.
Mogherini warned that by not implementing further steps of the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire such as reconstruction and the lifting of an Israel-Egyptian blockade of the territory, violence would resume. Israel and Hamas have had three major battles since 2008.
"We are not going to have a fourth war," she said. "It's not only the people in Gaza that can't afford having a fourth war. All the world cannot afford this."