Sunday, December 13, 2009

UN builds mud brick homes for homeless Gazans

JERUSALEM — A Palestinian man made homeless by last winter's Gaza war was the first to receive a U.N.-funded mud brick home Saturday, with U.N. aid officials saying they're reverting to ancient building techniques because Israel won't allow concrete and other construction materials into blockaded Gaza.

The U.N. hopes to build around 120 mud brick homes for dozens of Gaza families in the next few months, said John Ging, head of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency in Gaza. Each house costs about $10,000 and takes three months to build.

Thousands of Gazans were made homeless during Israel's three-week military assault on the Hamas-ruled territory a year ago. The offensive, which also killed hundreds of Palestinians, was meant to punish Gaza's Hamas rulers and put a halt to years of rocket fire from the territory on Israeli border towns.

Gazans have been unable to rebuild because Israel and Egypt continue to enforce a border blockade first imposed in June 2007 after Hamas overran the territory. Gaza residents made homeless by the war have squeezed into homes of relatives, rented apartments or paid black-market prices to fix broken windows and patch up walls.

Some 1,000 Gazans still live in tents, Ging said.

"A mud hut is still better than a tent," said Ging. "It's not a solution to the reconstruction of Gaza but it shows you how desperate the situation is, that a year later, people living in tents have the hopeful prospect of getting a temporary mud brick shelter," he said.

Israel says raw materials could be seized by Hamas to make weapons or fortify their military structures. Senior U.N. officials say they have repeatedly offered guarantees that the material will be used in reconstruction.

Gaza police have rebuilt at least one of their stations out of mud, and several residents throughout the territory have also used mud to build simple homes.

The first house was given to Majid Athamneh, an elderly man who lost the apartment building where he and his children lived during the war in the border area of Izbet Abed Rabo. His new mud house looks out on the ruins of his former home.

Also in Gaza, Palestinian medic Moawia Hassanain said a 40-year-old farmer was killed by an exchange of fire between Palestinian and Israeli forces on Saturday morning.

An Israeli army spokeswoman said Palestinians fired at Israeli soldiers, sparking the brief battle.

The border area has been relatively quiet since the Gaza war.

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