GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – The first large-scale project to remove tons of rubble in the Gaza Strip left over from this summer's fighting between the Islamic militant group Hamas and Israel began on Wednesday, a significant step forward in rebuilding the war-torn area.
The project is taking place in Gaza City's Shijaiyah neighborhood, an area that was devastated during the fighting. Workers manning bulldozers and other heavy machinery began gathering and crushing the rubble. Others, wearing fluorescent vests, were busy extracting twisted rebar for recycling. People used horse-drawn carts to carry bags of cement to repair damaged dwellings.
Palestinian Minister of Public Works Mufeed al-Hasayneh said the 50-day war in July and August left 2.5 million tons of rubble in Gaza.
Sweden is paying $3.2 million for the project through the United Nations, where officials hope to crush and clear 140,000 tons of rubble in Shijaiyah over the course of a year.
About 100,000 buildings or structures were damaged in the fighting. The U.N. says this includes over 18,000 housing units that were entirely destroyed.
More than three months after the end of the war, delivery of building materials is slow.
A U.N.-sponsored mechanism allows some people to obtain cement and steel based on vouchers from the ministry. The vouchers are issued after Israel is briefed on the amounts of the materials each family would get, to make sure that supplies are not diverted to Hamas to build attack tunnels or other militant infrastructure.
"This is a painful way because there is still a long course and we have not started real rebuilding until now," al-Hasayneh said.
Sweden's Consul General in Jerusalem Ann-Sofie Nilsson has announced a $3.4 million fund for the more than 1,500 families whose homes were destroyed.
Nabil al-Deeb, a 51-year-old who lost his house in the Gaza fighting, said he wants the removal of rubble to be completed as soon as possible. "So far, we are still suffering in accommodation. We live in rentals and no one is taking care of us," he said.