Palestinians to Build Housing on Gaza Settlement Ruins

Advisor to PA: Plans in place to build 5,000 homes funded mainly by Arab Gulf states and Japan.

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The Palestinian Authority plans to build thousands of homes to ease crowding in impoverished Gaza now that Israel has left, including high-rises erected on the ruins of the former Jewish settlement of Morag.

Diana Butto, legal adviser to the Palestinian Authority, told Reuters that plans were in place to build 5,000 homes across the Gaza Strip at a cost of e165 million, funded mainly by Arab Gulf states and Japan.

"The whole idea is now that the Israelis are gone, we can use this land as breathing space," Butto said.

She said Palestinians would build 3,000 homes for poor families in southern Gaza at Morag, once a stronghold of settler resistance to the Israeli pullout.

The remainder of the housing will be erected elsewhere across the coastal Gaza Strip, the most densely populated place on earth and home to 1.4 million Palestinians.

"I think it is a drop in the bucket. If you are looking at the population estimates that we have got, they are estimating in 20 years the population is going to double," Butto said.

Overcrowding in Gaza has been exacerbated by Israeli army demolitions that have made thousands homeless during raids, especially on the border with Egypt. Israel says raids were aimed at fighting arms smuggling through tunnels built by militants, or to prevent attacks.

At Morag, a Palestinian police officer dressed in camouflage waves his arm across mounds of concrete and steel wreckage from the Jewish settler homes whose rubble has yet to be removed.

"Here is where we will build Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed city," he said, referring to the project, named for the Emirati president whose country is funding the building.

The United Arab Emirates - which has no diplomatic ties with Israel, conditioning normalization on the establishment of a Palestinian state - has already funded a separate e55 million Gaza housing project that opened earlier this year.

The Morag project is meant to be completed within a year, although construction has yet to start and several buildings including a synagogue and nursery school remain partly standing.

Following demands by Palestinians, Israel razed the homes of departing Jewish settlers when it quit the coastal strip earlier this month.

Palestinians said they wanted to make more efficient use of scarce land. While Morag housing will go to poor families, other projects will aid those whose homes were destroyed by Israel.

The United Nations Agency for Palestinian refugees estimates Israel demolished nearly 3,000 refugee houses since the start of a Palestinian uprising in 2000, many in a flashpoint Gaza camp.

Less than a third of those homes have been rebuilt. Butto said Palestinians hoped to build more homes in the future to deal with a growing population, but was waiting on funding.

"Despite the fact that the international community is claiming that they are going to be giving the Palestinians billions of dollars, we actually haven't received any of that money," she said.



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