YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Saudi Arabia offers $1 billion to rebuild Gaza as fragile cease-fires hold

The Saudi king has strong words for Israel, saying a 2002 peace offer is at risk. The move also is meant to help repair Saudi Arabia's standing in the Arab world.

January 20, 2009|Ashraf Khalil

KHAN YUNIS, GAZA STRIP — Uniformed police officers returned to the streets of Gaza on Monday, machine guns in hand, as Hamas declared that Israel's 22-day air and land assault had done nothing to weaken the militant group's authority here.

"Hamas emerged from this battle with its head held high," said Hamad al Ruqb, a Hamas official in Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip. "Every Israeli attack only increases our support."

As Israeli tanks and soldiers continued their withdrawal, residents emerged from weeks of hiding to assess the damage. In addition to a death toll estimated at more than 1,300, the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics estimated infrastructure and economic losses at almost $2 billion.

The director of the agency said that 21,000 buildings were either damaged or destroyed -- nearly 1,000 structures every day of the Israeli campaign.

Much of the reconstruction costs will be met by donations from Arab countries. At an Arab League summit Monday in Kuwait, Saudi King Abdullah pledged $1 billion toward rebuilding Gaza.

As the tanks withdrew Monday, the full scope of the destruction began to come into focus.

In the village of Fukhari, outside Khan Yunis, it seemed as if a powerful earthquake had struck, flattening a collection of 15 homes belonging to a single extended family, a swath of destruction the size of a city block. Israeli tanks and bulldozers rolled through this agricultural patch last week, destroying every building in sight.

Stunned residents picked through the wreckage among muddy, thigh-high tread marks, salvaging clothing, blankets and undamaged cinder blocks, hauling anything usable away on tractors and donkey carts.

"They even killed the chickens and the turkeys!" shouted Faour Atteya, a 50-year-old high school teacher. "They killed the cats!"

At Atteya's feet, his 2-year-old-son, Yasser, sat wailing atop a small pile of muddied clothes.

Colorful bits of debris jutted out of a nearby pile of rubble: a small plastic chair, bits of construction paper and a coloring book.

"This was the neighborhood nursery school run by a charitable organization," Atteya said.

A short drive away in the village of Khozaa, residents pointed cautiously at the lone Israeli tank still visible in the distance. A fierce thrust by the vehicles had destroyed at least a dozen homes, killing at least 13 people.

Residents alleged that Israeli soldiers had ordered people out of their homes, then shot a 47-year-old woman in the head as she led a procession of women and children to supposed safety while waving a pair of white flags.

Hamas defiance

Despite the devastation on display, Hamas' military wing declared its intention to continue the fight. In a news conference, spokesman Abu Obeidah, his face masked by a red checkered scarf, accused Israel of exaggerating the casualty estimates for militant fighters while hiding its own losses. He claimed that only 48 Hamas men had died in combat; Israel claims to have killed about 400.

Abu Obeidah also pledged to continue launching rockets toward Israel until Gaza's borders are opened.

"Bringing in and manufacturing the holy weapons is our mission, and we know how to acquire weapons," he said.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni warned Hamas against firing rockets. "If Hamas fires one Qassam to the south or anywhere else in Israel, it will be struck again, and Hamas knows it," she said in comments broadcast on Israeli radio. "Now Hamas knows what Israel does when it is attacked. Also, the world knows what Israel does when attacked, and even accepts it."

Throughout Gaza, police officers donned their uniforms for the first time in three weeks. Officers in fluorescent yellow vests directed traffic in the southern town of Rafah. In the strip of land hugging the Egyptian border, police wandered through the wreckage of hundreds of tents covering entrances to cross-border smuggling tunnels. They chased curious onlookers away from an unexploded 6-foot warhead lying under a tarp.

Israel's initial air barrage on Dec. 27 left the security forces in Gaza wounded and disoriented. Hundreds of police stations and security bases were destroyed in the opening hours of the assault, and two of the territory's top police commanders died in a single strike.

But within days, police were back on the streets, in civilian clothes and carrying concealed weapons so as not to attract more airstrikes. On Monday, they returned to full uniform and a robust public presence, looking for signs of looting, family feuds and especially price gouging.

At Star Market in Rafah, an open-air venue for goods smuggled from Egypt, a crowd of Hamas officers in matching fur-collar bomber jackets descended on a merchant selling a scarce type of household valve necessary for kitchen stoves. After determining that he was selling the valve for 8 shekels (about $2) more than the legal limit, they confiscated his goods. Then they moved to the sidewalk, sold the valves at the legal price and gave the cash to the merchant.

Los Angeles Times Articles