The Gaza conflict caused at least three times as much physical damage as was incurred during the IDF’s military operation in the Strip during the winter of 2008 and 2009, the UN special envoy to the peace process Robert Serry said on Monday.
“The volume of reconstruction will be about three times that needed after the so-called Operation Cast Lead in 2009,” Serry told the UN Security Council which discussed the Gaza conflict in New York. He repeated many of his comments in a briefing he held outside the meeting.
The UN estimates that 16,800 homes used by 100,000 Palestinians were destroyed or damaged by this summer’s conflict, he said.
“This is an unprecedented crisis when it comes to Gaza. It is much larger than what happened in 2008 and 2009 [Operation Cast Lead]. Which also means that with every day passing, there is so much needed in recovery and humanitarian efforts,” he said.
Israel must let cement into Gaza, Serry said, noting that of course that material should be monitored. In past years Israel was hesitant to allow concrete into Gaza, fearing Hamas could divert it for other uses, such as infiltration tunnels.
Serry said the UN can monitor the supplies and has done so in the past.
“UN construction materials were not used for the tunnels,” he said.
“Right now, Gaza urgently needs houses, hospitals, and schools – not rockets, tunnels, and conflict. We expect Hamas and all other factions to act responsibly in this regard and refrain from any actions that run counter to this agenda,” Serry said.
He also summarized for the council the harm inflicted on Gaza by the conflict.
UNRWA schools were hit three times during the conflict, even though both Israel and Hamas knew that people had sought shelter there.
“A total of 38 people were killed in those three incidents, and 317 were injured.
Eleven UNRWA colleagues were killed in the line of duty,” Serry said.
In addition, he said, some 108 UNRWA installations were damaged. He also noted that weapons caches were found in three UNRWA schools.
A branch of his office in Gaza was hit by a number of projectiles, Serry said.
The death toll from this summer’s conflict “is appalling,” he said, explaining that more than two-thirds of the 2,000 Palestinians killed were civilians.
This includes 459 children and 239 women, he said. One third of the 10,000 Palestinians who were injured were children, Serry added.
These statistics, he said, came from the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which based its numbers on data from the Palestinian health authorities.
“We have come to the conclusion that two-thirds of the casualties were civilian,” Serry said.
A reporter quizzed him about the veracity of this conclusion.
The IDF estimates that half the deaths in Gaza were Hamas combatants.
Serry said, “What is the difference between two-thirds, or 70 percent or 50%? It is too much.”
He described the situation in Gaza as “the biggest crisis I have been experiencing in my job.”
That is “why I am so keen to see white smoke,” he said.
Serry said he hoped Israel and Hamas would agree to a cease-fire that addressed the issues of Gaza’s governance, economy and reconstruction and Israeli security.
“I hope the Palestinian Authority will now be empowered to resume effective control of Gaza,” Serry said, adding that the PA should also lead reconstruction efforts.
The blockade must be lifted, he told the council. Most specifically, construction materials must be let into Gaza, so that destroyed homes could be rebuilt.
Looking at the larger picture, he said “the Gaza crisis should be a bleak warning to all concerned what the future will bring if we do not reverse the current negative trend towards a one-state reality, which is now on the parties’ doorstep.”
“We must urgently call on and support both parties to return to meaningful negotiations towards a final-status agreement in which Israel and Palestine live side by side in peace and security,” Serry said.