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Cleanup of Gaza begins

Hamas fighters seek to restore order

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Uniformed Hamas security teams emerged on Gaza City’s streets Monday as leaders of the Islamic militant group vowed to restore order in the shattered Palestinian territory after a three-week pummeling by the Israeli military.

Hamas proclaimed it won a great victory over the Jewish state – a view that appeared greatly exaggerated – and the task of reconstruction faced deep uncertainty because of the fear of renewed fighting and Israel’s control over border crossings.

Cars and pedestrians again clogged streets. Donkey carts hauled produce and firewood past rubble and broken glass. The parliament building and other targets of Israeli attacks were piles of debris, while orange and olive groves on the edge of town were flattened.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon planned to travel to Gaza today to inspect damage and visit U.N. facilities hit in the fighting. Ban did not scheduled meetings with officials from Hamas, whose government is not internationally recognized.

Israelis hope Gaza’s civilians, who suffered heavily in the fighting that ended Sunday, will blame their militant rulers for provoking the Israeli assault with rocket attacks on southern Israel. Hamas, however, raced to capitalize on anger toward Israel and sought to show it remains unbowed and firmly in command of the Mediterranean coastal strip.

“We are still ready and capable of firing more rockets. We are developing the range of our rockets and the enemy will face more, and our rockets will hit new targets, God willing,” said Abu Obeida, the spokesman for Hamas’ military wing.

Despite the defiance, Gaza’s Iran-backed leadership is likely to focus for now on assisting a traumatized population rather than reigniting a full-blown conflict that could bring more misery to the area’s 1.4 million people.

Israel hopes its Gaza offensive will serve as a long-term deterrent to further militant rocket attacks on its territory. But the Jewish state ended the war without achieving guarantees that Hamas will halt missile fire or stop smuggling weapons into Gaza.

Hamas’ demand that Israel open Gaza’s blockaded border crossings also was not met.

With aid groups calling for an expanded flow of shipments, Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor indicated that goods and equipment transported across the border from Israel must be closely scrutinized.

Palestinian surveyors estimate the war caused at least $1.4 billion worth of destruction to buildings, roads and power lines.

At least 1,259 Palestinians were killed in Israel’s assault, more than half of them civilians, according to the United Nations, Gaza health officials and rights groups. Thirteen Israelis died, including 10 soldiers.

Hamas spokesman Abu Obeida said 48 of the group’s fighters died, a figure far below the hundreds of militants that Israel says it killed. Hamas also said 165 policemen were killed. Smaller militant groups reported an additional 104 fighters dead.



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