Still under an Israeli siege that has slowed reconstruction, Gaza's humanitarian crisis could fuel further conflict, say blockade critics
As frustration mounts over the slow pace of Gaza's reconstruction, Palestinian housing minister Mufid al-Hasayneh laid a brick on Wednesday for the first home to be rebuilt in the Strip since the Israeli military offensive a year ago.
The 51-day war last summer killed 2,200 Palestinians, predominantly civilians, and 73 on the Israeli side, mainly soldiers, destroying or damaging tens of thousands of homes in the besieged enclave.
Until now, the only repairs made have been to homes which were partially damaged, while 18,000 totally destroyed houses have remained in ruins.
Israel's ongoing blockade of Gaza, now in its ninth year, has been blamed for the slow progress as well as a lack of international donor support for the territory, ruled by the Palestinian movement Hamas.
Hasayneh laid the brick at the Harara family's home in Shejaiya, an area east of Gaza City, one of the worst hit by Israeli shelling during the war.
"The march towards real reconstruction of the Gaza Strip has begun, and nothing will stop it," Hasayneh said.
Arab donations towards reconstruction
"We will see a lot of movement on the reconstruction front in the coming days. We will rebuild all homes destroyed by Israel," he said, thanking several Arab countries, including Qatar and Saudi Arabia, for their donations towards Gaza's reconstruction.
But the process is expected to take years in the war-torn coastal enclave, whose 1.8 million residents have seen three wars in six years by Israel.
Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA has said that so far it has only received enough money for 200 of the 7,000 houses it is tasked with rebuilding.
Donations pledged at an international conference in Cairo in October have been slow to arrive while the blockade that has choked Gaza for years is still in place.
Israel controls two-thirds of the goods and personnel crossings into the enclave, and Egypt controls a third.
Israel says more than 1.1 million tonnes of construction material have been allowed in since October through the Kerem Shalom crossing.
Egypt last month allowed cement supplies to be brought in through the Rafah crossing.
Critics of the blockade have called for it to be fully lifted to accelerate reconstruction, warning that an ongoing humanitarian crisis could fuel further conflict.