GAZA CITY (AFP) — Gaza, one of the world's most impoverished strips of land, has been plunged deeper into the abyss by Israel's three-week war which has reduced vaste swathes of the territory to rubble.
According to the Palestinian central bureau of statistics, the damage to infrastructure alone is 476 million dollars -- the bill for which is expected to be largely picked up by Western donors.
Israeli bombs and tanks shells have pummelled everything from UN warehouses, schools and hospitals since Operation Cast Lead was launched on December 27.
Water supplies have been reduced to a trickle after damage to the main treatment plant while hits on power lines and numerous sub-stations have left most households without electricity at the height of winter.
While Israel insists it made every effort to only target Hamas militants, the "collateral damage" from a war largely fought in the teeming neighbourhoods of Gaza City and refugee camps has been immense.
Gaza is one of the world's most densely-populated places on the planet, with around 1.5 million people packed into a surface area of 362 square kilometres (140 square miles).
More than half of the population is under 18 years of age.
More than 1,200 people, some half of them estimated to be civilians, are known to have died since the start of the war.
Emergency services expect that figure will rise when they finally get the chance to sift through the rubble of areas that have been too dangerous to access.
According to a field report compiled by the United Nations's humanitarian coordinator in Gaza, supplies of food, cooking gas, water and fuel are at "critical levels".
"Large numbers of civilians remain trapped in their homes while thousands more are seeking refuge with host families and in (UN) emergency shelters. Water, sanitation and electricity systems are in a poor condition."
The most pressing task will be to distribute food to a hungry population, with security conditions during the conflict making it sometimes impossible for drivers to ferry supplies. Around half of Gaza's population are dependent on food aid from the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA).
Israel has not bowed to demands by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority to end its closure of Gaza which has been in place since the Islamists seized control of the territory in 2007.
However its welfare minister, Isaac Herzog, who has been tasked to oversee the influx of aid into Gaza from overseas, says empty market stalls and supermarkets should soon be replenished.
"As of Sunday, Israel will start allowing fresh produce, including fruit and vegetables into Gaza," he told AFP.
The conflict has taken a heavy toll on Gaza's health system with 16 medical centres and 16 ambulances damaged or destroyed.
Some of the worst damage was sustained by the Al-Quds hospital in Gaza City, ravaged by a fire which broke after an Israeli shell hit one of the wards.
A total of 14 medical personnel were killed and 22 wounded during the offensive, according to the Palestinian health ministry.
Around 60 schools, including those by UNRWA, have also been hit during the campaign, according to Al Mezan, a Palestinian human rights group.
Forty-eight people were killed on January 6 when Israeli strikes hit three UN-run schools and two were killed in a strike on a UN-run school hours before Israel announced a unilateral ceasefire.
Around 4,000 residential buildings were destroyed during the course of the offensive and a further 16,000 damaged, the Palestinian Authority said, estimating the cost of rebuilding the homes at around 272 million dollars.
But if Israel has been embarrassed by the damage to hospitals, schools and homes, it has been unapologetic about hitting security compounds, regarding members of the Hamas-run security forces as legitimate targets.
Thirty police stations were destroyed during the offensive and dozens of members of Hamas's security forces killed, as well as interior minister Said Siam, raising fears of a widening security vacuum in the territory.
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