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Amid Gaza truce, the daunting challenge of rebuilding

By John Vause and Jethro Mullen, CNN
updated 5:34 AM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • More than 60 construction companies in Gaza were hit during the conflict
  • Business owner: "You can't rebuild Gaza again until these kind of factories rebuild"
  • Indirect talks between Israelis and Palestinians are taking place in Cairo
  • The talks are taking place amid a three-day cease-fire brokered by Egypt

Gaza (CNN) -- With just 72 hours of calm under the current cease-fire, Palestinians are rushing to try to fix some of the worst of the destruction caused by the conflict in Gaza.

Among the most urgent problems: sewage pipes that have been spewing raw effluent for weeks, a lack of clean water and severe power shortages. Aid groups are distributing basic supplies like mattresses and bottles of water.

But as Palestinian and Israeli officials hold indirect talks in Cairo to seek a more lasting end to hostilities, residents of Gaza are confronting the longer-term question of how the territory can rebuild.

More than 60 construction industry companies, which provide crucial building materials, were hit by Israeli strikes, according to Palestinian officials.

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'They destroyed our business'

Hatem Hassouna's factory made pavers for roads and concrete ready mix for buildings.

"You can't rebuild Gaza again until these kind of factories rebuild," he said as he stood amid the building's wreckage.

Hassouna said he doesn't know why his factory was a target -- he sold only to the United Nations and aid groups. All of it, he said, was closely monitored by Israeli authorities. The Israeli military said it was looking into why the construction factory was hit.

"We are not following Hamas policies, we are following Israeli policies," Hassouna said. "They destroyed our business, they destroyed our factories. And they want peace? How?"

Last month, Israel began its offensive against Hamas, the militant Islamic group that holds power in Gaza, in an effort to stop rocket fire across the border. It later sent in ground troops with the aim of destroying Hamas' network of tunnels, some of which extend into Israel and have been used to launch attacks.

Over 100,000 homeless

Map: Middle East region  Map: Middle East region
Map: Middle East regionMap: Middle East region

The need for reconstruction following weeks of heavy fighting is pressing.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that 16,700 homes in Gaza were destroyed or severely damaged in more than a month of fighting, leaving more than 100,000 people homeless.

Residents say Israeli strikes flattened entire neighborhoods, like the one where Ayman Karfana and his family lived.

"I don't even know where my house is," he said. "Where is the road? Where is my neighbor's home?"

The U.N. estimates that rebuilding the homes in the impoverished territory will cost more than $455 million.

Limits on imports

The reconstruction issue plays into the talks in Cairo between Israeli and Palestinian delegations.

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Israel says the rebuilding of Gaza should be linked with demilitarization of the territory, which Hamas opposes.

Hamas says it wants, among other things, the lifting of Israeli restrictions on the movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza. Israeli authorities say the measures are necessary to prevent weapons being brought in.

Israel limits imports of construction materials into Gaza. The Israeli military says that Hamas used much of the materials that were allowed in to build more tunnels rather than civil projects like schools, hospitals and libraries.

Israel: Halt to violence is key

Israel would be willing to ease sanctions "if all aggression from Gaza stops," Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said Monday.

"I believe if the Palestinians -- if Hamas -- ceases violence, ceases to target Israeli citizens, then anything is possible," he said.

The Palestinian delegation includes representatives from several factions, including Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah, the group that governs the West Bank.

Hamas officials have said the current round of Egyptian-mediated talks are crucial, suggesting it's the last time they'll be willing to participate. The truce began early Monday and is due to end early Thursday.

Talks during a previous 72-hour cease-fire last week failed to yield a breakthrough. That truce ended Friday with a resumption of attacks.

The U.N. said Monday that 1,960 Palestinians have been killed during the conflict; 71% of them were civilians.

Israeli officials say 64 Israeli soldiers died, and three civilians were killed.

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READ: Is Mideast peace as far away as ever?

CNN's John Vause reported from Gaza, and Jethro Mullen reported and wrote from Hong Kong. CNN's Samira Said and Saima Mohsin also contributed to this report.

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