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Long, Painful Recovery Begins for People of Gaza

The fighting in the Gaza Strip has ended and its residents have begun the struggle to rebuild their lives. But Israel's closure of border crossings, its dispute with Hamas, and divisions within the Palestinian leadership mean politics are getting in the way of reconstruction.

Israel's 22-day assault on Hamas militants left entire blocks in the northern Gaza Strip's industrial and residential Ezbeh Abed Rabo reduced to rubble.

Donkey-driven carts meander through the rubble, as the wind kicks up clouds of concrete dust.

Amid the ruins of homes and shops, there are schoolbooks and shoes. There is also despair and indignation.

Khalil Hassan Siam sits on a piece of concrete near what used to be his doorstep. The 72-year-old said he had nothing to do with those who were firing rockets at Israel and terrorizing civilians, and yet he said Israel has forced him to pay.

He said he had lived in this house since 1960. He said he and his family lived in peace and security, and were not involved in any armed resistance. He called what happened here barberic aggression by the Israelis. He said he never had seen killing in cold blood like this. Siam said he saw Israeli soldiers taking one of his neighbors out and shooting him in front of his mother and father.

His nephew was killed, his home and all of his possessions destroyed. He sleeps under a tarp, and waits for help.

With Hamas security agents nearby, people like Khalil are careful not to criticize any lack of response by the leadership. Some residents reported getting cash payments from Hamas as a first sign of relief efforts.

The job ahead is enormous. 4,000 homes are destroyed. Power lines are down. On the road lie the rotting carcasses of cows killed by shrapnel. A flock of sheep graze between tank tracks in what used to be a planted field.

A group of men, looking dazed and weary, gathered around a campfire on top of the bombed-out ruins of what was once the metal-works factory where they worked. They gather scraps of wood from the rubble to keep the fire going, and heat a kettle of tea.

Thirty-year-old Mohammad Ayad wondered how he will provide for his four children, now that his livelihood is destroyed.

He said this factory is where he used to make his living. Now, he said, he has nothing.

The factory's owner, Taha Dalul, picked through the rubble, looking for anything he can salvage. He reflects on whether Hamas accomplished anything by firing rockets on Israel - actions that triggered this war.

In his opinion, he said, the rockets were unable to cause damage like the one done here. He said this was an earthquake. In the past, he said Israelis would go after the individuals who threw stones and killed them. Now, he said, they are destroying everything.

He said he hopes the destruction and horror that Gaza has endured will shock its leaders - and those of Israel - to work for lasting peace. But he said that short of that, he wants to see both sides take pragmatic steps.

He said he hopes the border crossings will open permanently so that he can buy equipment and everything he needs to rebuild his factory.

The crossings were Gaza's main sources of imported materials, food and fuel, before Israel began its economic blockade of Gaza in 2007.

In a bid to prevent militants from getting materials to make rockets that could be used to terrorize Israeli civilians - Israel is keeping border crossings closed. Construction materials needed for rebuilding are not getting through.

Israel promises it will assist with reconstruction, but few here believe that Israelis - who struck hospitals and schools - will be the ones to help them. Some, along with the United Nations and international human-rights advocates, believe Israel should be investigated for war crimes and - if found guilty - be made to compensate victims.

At Gaza City's main al-Shifa hospital, surgeon Subhi Skeik told VOA he is perplexed by what he has seen in the past few weeks.

"The types of injuries and the ways our patients have been killed are different types of injuries. A good number of our patients has been exposed to definitely unusual types of weapons. You know, if I am talking about unusual types of weapons, plenty of the patients are coming with minute injuries to their abdomen or chest, but inside the abdomen or chest, you are seeing a massive destruction of the internal organs."

Dr. Skeik said the hospital was overwhelmed in the first days of the Israeli assault. He said shortages of supplies and inadequate facilities caused a number of patients to die.

Now, he said aid has been coming in from Arab countries and from volunteers from the West. Some of it, he said, came too late.

If and when massive aid does start pouring in, coordination could be a problem. Officials with the Palestinian Authority dominated by Hamas' rival, Fatah, have suggested it should be they who receive and administer the aid and not Hamas.