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Israel's Gaza blockade: Millions of dollars worth of aid piles up in warehouses

As the US ramps up Gaza aid projects worth $140 million, stockpiles of everything from steel pipes to medical needles will take months to clear out after the recent easing of Israel's Gaza blockade. Many items are still being blocked.

By Anne UsherContributor / August 10, 2010

A Palestinian boy carries boxed lanterns along a street in Gaza City on Tuesday, as Muslims across the world prepare for Ramadan. Ramadan is different in Gaza this year thanks to the partial relaxation of Israel's blockade, allowing shops to fill with special items for the occasion.

Mohammed Abed/AFP/Newscom/File


Ashdod, Israel

In a half-dozen warehouses in this southern Israeli port, refrigerators and roofing materials for Israeli homes share space with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of PVC pipes, generators, and other equipment intended for 37 wells and water treatment facilities in the Gaza Strip.

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Stacked in other warehouses close to the Gaza border are steel pipes and cement for building the facilities’ foundations – part of $85 million set aside for water projects by UNICEF and other international donors.

Most of the materials for Gaza have sat idle for a year, some as long as three years, according to the Palestinian water authority in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Israel sealed off the tiny coastal territory when the Islamist movement Hamas, considered by the US and Israel to be a terrorist organization, violently ousted its rival, Fatah, in 2007. Israel maintains that the blockade is essential to preserving its security, but international critics say the consequent humanitarian crisis amounts to collective punishment.

After its deadly raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla in May, Israel eased the restrictions – allowing some aid to start to arrive at project sites inside Gaza.

But as the US ramps up a deployment of Gaza recovery projects worth $140 million, aid agencies here caution that with only one of four crossings open and a time-consuming monitoring system, it will be many more months before current reconstruction projects – let alone new ones – are completed.

UN monitoring and log books show that many big-ticket construction materials are still being blocked, despite the new rules allowing them through under aid agency supervision and with the consent of the Palestinian Authority.

“No one is buying anything extra at all,” because there are no guarantees that the materials will make it into Gaza, says a UN official, speaking on condition of anonymity. Many materials or finished goods are still being delayed or denied, so organizations “are not moving forward with existing projects – things that are already approved.”

Israel increases truckloads per day to 250

Donors say they debate every line item with Israeli officials and, as before, must track and photograph items as small as a nail from its point of origin to the wall in which its hammered.