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Gaza blockade over? Not according to the UN.

The UN's top representative in Gaza says building projects are being delayed because Israel is not allowing the free flow of construction materials into the territory.

By Correspondent / December 9, 2010

A Palestinian woman walks next to bamboo furniture, displayed outside a family bamboo workshop, in Gaza City, Thursday, Dec. 9.

Adel Hana/AP

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Gaza City, Gaza

More than two months after Israel approved the entry of construction materials for humanitarian projects in Gaza as part of the loosening of its blockade of the coastal enclave, only a tiny fraction of the needed materials have arrived.

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Projects to build schools, health clinics, housing units, and water distribution sit idle as the UN agencies administering them wait for cement, steel, and other construction materials, highlighting the lack of reconstruction progress in Gaza despite Israel’s promise in June to allow such projects to go forward.

Illustrating just how far behind Gaza is, the projects in limbo are ones that were suspended in 2007 when Hamas took control of Gaza. They don’t even begin to address new needs that have arisen since then from population growth, infrastructure deterioration, and the destruction from Israel’s offensive in the Palestinian territory that ended in January 2009.

“The scale of the need, when measured against the capacity at the current crossing points, just tells you it's still going to be wholly and totally inadequate,” says John Ging, head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), the main UN agency in Gaza. “The accumulation of many years of underdevelopment here every year becomes worse. We have exhausted all of the arrangements to try to cope.... It’s the ordinary people who are suffering as a consequence.”

A report released last week by 21 international organizations, including Amnesty International and Oxfam, said that little has changed on the ground in Gaza since Israel announced in June that it would ease its blockade of the territory. While Israel said it would allow more construction materials into Gaza under the new policy, the reality has been an increase in food and consumer goods coming into Gaza, but little increase in construction materials.

The start of the blockade

Israel, along with Egypt, imposed its blockade on Gaza in 2007 in the wake of Islamist group Hamas’s takeover of the coastal enclave. Israel, which considers Hamas a terrorist organization, decided to ease the siege after nine people were killed in Israel’s raid on a flotilla attempting to break the blockade on May 31.

Though the policy change was announced in June, Israel notified UNRWA and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in early October that it had decided to allow construction materials into Gaza for only 7 percent of the projects the UN wanted to resume – nine UNDP projects and 25 UNWRA projects.

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