U.N. suspends aid to help rebuild Gaza, citing lack of funding

U.N. agency cites lack of funding as it suspends effort to help Gazans rebuild homes after 50-day conflict

A United Nations agency said Tuesday that conditions in the Gaza Strip are growing more desperate following its decision to suspend aid to repair homes damaged in last summer’s conflict between Israel and Hamas.

The U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees said a lack of funding forced it to suspend the program designed to provide cash assistance to thousands of Palestinians trying to repair homes damaged or destroyed during Israeli bombardments.

The agency said in statement that though $720 million was needed to help Palestinians repair more than 96,000 homes, it has received only $135 million and has exhausted all funding available on repairs and rental subsidies.

Robert Turner, UNRWA director in Gaza, said thousands of families continue to suffer from inadequate shelter due to the shortfall. "People are literally sleeping amongst the rubble," he said.

Hamas, the Islamist movement that remains in control of the Gaza Strip, described the UNRWA decision as "deeply shocking."

Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, said the decision is bound to "intensify the suffering of the people of Gaza and the misery of thousands of displaced people whose homes were destroyed."

Donors meeting in Cairo last October pledged over $5 billion to help in the reconstruction of Gaza on condition that the Palestinian Authority and the United Nations oversee the reconstruction process.

Only a trickle of that amount has reached its destination, according to Palestinian and U.N. officials. That is mostly because the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority has not yet taken full control of operations in Gaza from Hamas, despite a power-sharing agreement reached by the two groups last year.

Israel has imposed sanctions and a blockade on Gaza since Hamas took over power there in 2007, and donors are refusing to provide money unless the Palestinian Authority regains a measure of control in the coastal enclave.

“People are desperate and the international community cannot even provide the bare minimum -- for example, a repaired home in winter -- let alone a lifting of the blockade, access to markets or freedom of movement," Turner said. "We’ve said before that quiet will not last, and now the quiet is at risk.”

The UNRWA said it urgently needs $100 million in the first quarter of this year to allow families facing minor damage to repair their homes and to provide rental subsidies to thousands of families who found alternative temporary accommodations.

The agency expressed concern that these families may have to leave their rental places and move back to UNRWA facilities if they do not receive rental subsidies soon.

Abukhater is a special correspondent.

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