• 72pc of enclave’s residential buildings destroyed, reconstruction to cost up to $40bn
• Haniyeh says Hamas studying truce proposal in ‘positive spirit’

GAZA STRIP: The United Nations said on Thursday that the post-war reconstruction of Gaza would require an international effort unseen since the aftermath of World War II, estimating it could cost up to $40 billion.

It came as Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh struck an optimistic tone over a possible truce and hostage release deal for Gaza, after weeks of largely stalled negotiations.

There have been reports of sticking points between the militant group and Israel nearly seven months into the war that has devastated the Palestinian territory.

But Haniyeh, head of the group’s Qatar-based political bureau, said in calls to Egyptian and Qatari mediators that Hamas was studying the latest proposal with a “positive spirit”.

Much of Gaza has been reduced to a grey landscape of rubble and the United Nations estimated the cost of reconstruction at between $30bn and $40bn.

“The scale of the destruction is huge and unprecedented… this is a mission that the global community has not dealt with since World War II,” UN assistant secretary-general Abdallah al-Dardari told a briefing in the Jordanian capital Amman.

The UN official said “72 per cent of all residential buildings have been completely or partially destroyed”. Reconstruction is made more difficult by the presence of large quantities of unexploded ordnance in the debris that Gaza’s Civil Defence agency says triggers “more than 10 explosions every week”.

‘Get this done’

Mediators have proposed a deal that would halt fighting for 40 days and exchange Israeli hostages for potentially thousands of Palestinian prisoners, according to details released by Britain.

An Israeli official not authorised to speak publicly said Israel was still waiting for Hamas’s formal response to the latest proposal.

Before Haniyeh’s comments on Thursday, Hamas officials had given it a generally negative reception.

Senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan told AFP late Wednesday that the movement’s position on the proposal was “negative” for the time being.

But Hamas has come under intense pressure from mediators to accept the latest offer. “Hamas needs to say yes and needs to get this done,” Blinken said in Israel on Wednesday on his latest Middle East crisis tour.

Mounting criticism

Following a meeting with Blinken, Israel’s opposition leader Yair Lapid insisted that Netanyahu “doesn’t have any political excuse not to move to a deal for the release of the hostages”.

Regardless of whether a truce is reached, Netanyahu has vowed to send Israeli ground troops into Rafah, despite US opposition to any operation that fails to provide protection for the 1.5 million civilians sheltering in Gaza’s southernmost city.

“We will do what is necessary to win and overcome our enemy, including in Rafah,” he pledged at the start of cabinet meeting Thursday.

In south Gaza’s largest city Khan Yunis, foreign aid and borrowed equipment helped to “almost completely” restore the emergency department at Nasser Medical Complex, said its director Atef al-Hout.

Intense fighting raged in mid-February around the hospital, which Israeli tanks and armoured vehicles later surrounded.

Witnesses and an AFP correspondent reported air strikes on Khan Younis Thursday and shelling in the Rafah area, while militants and Israeli troops battled in Gaza City to the north.

Published in Dawn, May 3rd, 2024

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