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Israel, Palestinians mark one year since Gaza war

A year after last summer's devastating war, 39 percent of Gazans live below the poverty line and 100,000 are homeless
In the village of Khuzaa, Palestinian children play in the rubble of houses destroyed during the 50-day Gaza war last summer (AFP)

Israel and Palestinians mark one year since last summer's devastating war in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, with a ceasefire still largely holding but few of the issues that led to the conflict resolved.

The war took a heavy toll on Gaza, killing 2,251 Palestinians, the majority of whom were civilians including more than 500 children. Seventy-three people were killed on the Israeli side, including 67 soldiers.

A UN report released last month said both sides may have committed war crimes during the 50-day conflict, which has left more than 100,000 Gazans homeless in the impoverished enclave of 1.8 million people.

It was the third war in Gaza in six years, and by far the deadliest and most destructive of the three, leaving families wondering when the suffering will end.

"You have to remember, if you are even just a seven-year-old child . . . you have been through three wars," said Robert Turner, Gaza operations director for UN relief agency UNRWA.

Hamas, the organisation that runs the Gaza Strip, has planned commemorations on Wednesday. 

For many of those living in Gaza who saw the majority of casualties, the anniversary is a stark reminder of loss.

In the next few weeks, 22-year-old university student Hala Shehadeh will mark a year since she lost her husband, Khaled, while she was three months pregnant.

"I still remember everything as if it happened yesterday. The days passed by quickly and harshly, and my heart is orphaned by the love of my martyred husband. One year, and my heart is still an open wound," Shehadeh told MEE this week.

Israel held a memorial on Monday for its 73 victims killed in the war, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended the military offensive.

"I say to all enemies of Israel - Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran and IS (Islamic State) - that those who attempt to attack our people will pay with their blood," he said.

The circumstances surrounding Gaza have led to fears that another war could eventually break out, with rockets still occasionally fired into Israel and Israel responding with airstrikes.

Indirect talks on shoring up the ceasefire that ended last year's war and easing Israel's strict blockade on the territory have taken place, but there have been no signs that a deal could be reached anytime soon.

The blockade, as well as a lack of financing from international donors, have been blamed for the slow pace of reconstruction in Gaza, where around 18,000 homes were destroyed or severely damaged.

A split between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority led by President Mahmoud Abbas, which runs the Israeli-occupied West Bank, has worsened the situation. Reconciliation attempts have failed to heal the rift.

Meanwhile, Hamas has been challenged by Salafist militants in Gaza claiming links to the Islamic State group and who have taken credit for recent rocket fire.

'Resetting the clock' 

Last year's war was sparked in part by the abduction and murder of three young Israelis near a Jewish settlement in the West Bank.

The kidnapping triggered a massive manhunt in which hundreds of Palestinians were arrested and at least five killed.

It also led to the grisly revenge slaying of a 16-year-old Palestinian, who was snatched in east Jerusalem and burned alive by Israelis.

A surge in rocket fire from Gaza into Israel followed, and Israel in response launched its offensive on 8 July, giving it the name "Operation Protective Edge". A ground offensive began on 17 July.

Air and naval bombardments on the coastal strip continued until an Egyptian-brokered truce was reached in Cairo on 26 August.

Although Israel's stated aims in the war were to stop the rocket fire and destroy tunnels used by Palestinian fighters to carry out attacks.

But rocket fire has started up again - although sporadically and not claimed by Hamas - and fighters in Gaza have rebuilt tunnels.

Hamas claimed victory after the war, but some Gazans - many who have seen family members killed and who now live among the ruins of their former homes - scoff at this notion.

Mohammed Zaza, a 19-year-old nursing student, pointed to a vacant lot where his family's house once stood and said they now live in an overpriced, rented flat.

"All that comes out of our pocket because we are receiving absolutely no help," he said.

Instead of houses, frustration has built in Gaza, where 39 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.

"If we don't address the underlying causes of these ongoing conflicts, we're simply resetting the clock for the next cycle of violence," said the UN's Turner.