November 26, 2014 / 3:48 PM / in 3 years

Time running short to rebuild Gaza: EU representative

GAZA (Reuters) - Time is running out to get post-war reconstruction going in Gaza, which needs not only cement and bricks but also fundamental political change, the EU’s representative said during a visit to the enclave on Wednesday.

A Palestinian boy stands outside a mosque, that witnesses said was damaged by Israeli shelling during the most recent conflict between Israel and Hamas, on a winter day in Beit Hanoun town, northern Gaza Strip, November 25, 2014. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

Speaking at the opening of an exhibition of photographs taken during the July-August war, John Gatt-Rutter said he was painfully aware how much needed to be done to speed up the delivery of aid to Gaza’s 1.8 million people.

“A long time has gone by without enough cement or enough materials coming in that will allow people to rebuild their houses,” said the EU representative to the West Bank and Gaza.

“We do not have the luxury of waiting infinitely... There is a real need to move urgently and diplomatically and politically to try to work something out.”

The critical problem is moving sufficient cement, building equipment, bricks, iron and steel from Israel into Gaza.

Israel is concerned that, without sufficient oversight of goods moving into Gaza, material that can be used to rebuild tunnels into Israel or has another “dual-use” will fall into the hands of Hamas militants.

Another obstacle is the failure so far of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, led by President Mahmoud Abbas and based in the West Bank, to overcome their differences.

Israel wants the Western-backed Authority to take over responsibility for administering Gaza, including its borders, but that has not happened and tensions are growing.

Gatt-Rutter also cited the Palestinians’ political standoff and the failure of Hamas and Abbas’s Fatah party to properly implement their promised “unity” government.

“The problems of Gaza are multiple and they are very complicated, but they are first and foremost political,” he said. “It is still the fundamental problem of division.”

Robert Serry, U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East, last month proposed close video and GPS surveillance of all goods moving into Gaza, but it is costly and Palestinians say it is not working well.

With the region’s weather turning cold in recent days, aid workers worry that thousands of Gazans without adequate shelter will suffer.

An estimated 20,000 homes were destroyed or damaged in the conflict, and major pieces of infrastructure, from roads to sewage treatment plants, were seriously damaged.

“The volume and speed with which stuff is coming in, the speed with which people can rebuild their homes is the crucial question,” said Gatt-Rutter.

Editing by Luke Baker and Tom Heneghan

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