One year after Israel’s Operation Protective Edge against the launch of rockets from Gaza, Hamas authorities are reconstructing their military capabilities

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One year after Israel’s Operation  Protective Edge against the launch of rockets by Hamas from Gaza into Israel,  it was reported that the Hamas authorities are openly reconstructing their military capabilities in the Gaza Strip, including attack tunnels, diverting cement needed for civilian reconstruction.

Despite the Palestinian Authority (PA) failing to establish its rule in the Gaza Strip as demanded by international donors, Israel agreed to the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism (GRM) with the UN and Palestinian Authority (PA) in September 2014. Since then  it has been implementing it and  agreed to import construction materials, including dual use materials, into the Gaza Strip and assure they were not diverted for Hamas’s military purposes.

An electronic database, run by the PA’s Ministry of Civil Affairs, controls and matches the supply and demand for construction goods.

In recent months between 1000 and 1500 trucks have entered Gaza each week from Israel, including hundreds of trucks of construction materials, despite the PA not being present to check directly the use of the materials, due to disagreements between the PA and Hamas.

Meanwhile, Israel has been working to expand the capacity of the crossings. At a meeting in May, international donors, “took note of Israeli efforts to increase the volume of materials into Gaza,” and “welcomed the readiness expressed [by Israel] for further increasing the volumes even if this involves raised security risks.”

But pitfalls and infighting between the PA and Hamas are holding up  Gaza reconstruction. According to the UN, it would take 30 years for Gazans to rebuild the Strip at the current rate.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs: “As of 17 June, 95,143 individuals requiring materials for shelter repairs had been cleared to purchase materials under the GRM. Of these, over 90 per cent have so far procured full or partial quantities of their allocated construction material.” Totally destroyed homes have not yet been rebuilt, but in June the PA approved the entry of material for 16,000 new homes and initial works are expected in the second half of 2015. According to an April 2014 UN report repairs had been completed on 160 government schools, 74 kindergartens and 25 Ministry of Health clinics.

In addition to UN projects, Israel is also facilitating Qatari-funded infrastructure projects, with Israel allowing Qatari officials to enter Gaza from Israel when Egypt refused.

Israel has also significantly increased the numbers of Gazans entering Israel, with 12,600 entering on average each month in 2015. Israel has also allowed some exports to the West Bank and Israel.

By contrast, Egypt has kept the Rafah border crossing with the Gaza Strip closed most of the time following terror attacks carried out by ISIL affiliates against Egyptian targets in the Sinai  peninsula on 24 October 2014. Egypt accuses Hamas of aiding armed groups in the Sinai.

Whilst Israeli and Egyptian restrictions on access to the Hamas-run Gaza Strip pose constraints, Palestinian infighting, donor shortfalls, and shortage of materials are major factors holding back construction.

Arab League Secretary General Nabil Elaraby told Al-Hayat newspaper in February, “internal differences and the absence of cooperation between the PA and Hamas are behind the delay in reconstructing the Gaza Strip.”

UN official Jeffrey Feltman briefed the Security Council in March: “Despite the GRM’s continued expansion, four months after the Cairo conference donors have yet to fulfil the vast majority of their pledges. This is frankly unacceptable.”

A May 2015 Mideast Quartet report stated: “As long as the deadlock continues and the PA is not on the ground in Gaza, there will not be any significant improvement in the situation. An effective and tangible PA presence in Gaza is also a prerequisite for many of the donors who pledged funds.”

Last week, at kibbutz Nirim, which lies a mile from the Gaza border, residents heard a terrible explosion. Children began running and crying. The parents feared that yet another mortar or rocket had hit the border community village.

In fact it turned out the explosion occurred about 28N km away in the Sinai Peninsula, where Egyptian army and Islamic State activists were fighting. Yet it triggered a traumatic reminder of how close this community is to Islamic terrorists.

As residents in rocket range of Gaza marked Wednesday the first anniversary of the start of the war with Hamas, they are bracing for the next conflict.

During a tour along Israel’s border with Gaza, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesman Maj. Aryeh Shalicar said the military uses state-of-the-art technology to monitor the terrorists’ activities in the air, at sea, on the ground and below ground.

Last summer, the IDF discovered and destroyed 34 underground cross-border tunnels. Hamas spent years building them in order to send terror squads into the farm communities and IDF positions that hug the border, Shalicar said.

Standing 23 meters underground in a dank but sophisticated 2,9 km-long, Hamas-built tunnel that the IDF discovered two years ago, Shalicar pointed to the tunnel’s solid concrete construction and electrical and communications wiring. The army takes visitors on tours of the tunnel to underscore the dangers they pose to Israel’s border communities.

The tunnel, located less than a mile from Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha, “cost €1,8 million to 2,8 million to build,” the spokesman said. “This is Hamas’ top priority.”

Ori Raz, who heads Nirim’s emergency response team, said the community’s kibbutz members live between hope and fear.

“Since the war not one rocket has hit the kibbutz and there was only one false alarm,” he noted. From that perspective, he said, Israel’s ground and air offensives in Gaza were a tactical success. During the last hour of the war, a mortar that landed in Nirim killed two kibbutz residents and maimed a third.

Raz said the government already has plans to evacuate the region’s children should a new round of hostilities break out, even though every home has a room reinforced against rockets.

He said Nirim and other communities had to scramble a year ago to find children temporary homes, and many were forced to remain in the war zone.

In the meantime, the IDF will activate in the coming days a new detection system for underground tunnels running between the Gaza Strip and Israel. The new system had reportedly been deployed recently along the Gaza Strip.

Destroying Hamas’ underground tunnel network — which the group used for terror attacks against Israeli targets along the border — was one of the main objectives of the IDF operation.

Hamas has long used smuggling tunnels between the Gaza Strip and Egypt’s Sinai to smuggle weapons and other goods restricted by Israel’s security blockade. Since the end of hostilities last summer, the group has been seeking new smuggling routes, especially as Egypt has recently ramped-up efforts to stymie smuggling along the Sinai border, the IDF official said.