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UN chief to Gaza, Hamas holds victory rallies

world Updated: Jan 20, 2009 15:50 IST

AP
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UN chief Ban Ki-moon headed to the Gaza Strip on Tuesday to inspect the devastation wrought by Israel's three-week onslaught as the territory's militant Hamas rulers, triumphant at having survived the assault, geared up for victory rallies amid the ruins.

Both sides ceased fire on Sunday, ending a war that claimed the lives of some 1,300 Palestinians, according to Gaza health officials, and 13 Israelis. No violations have been reported since, and the last of Israel's ground troops were expected to pull out of Gaza on Tuesday, defense officials said.

Israel mounted an air and ground offensive against Hamas on December 27 in an effort to force Gaza militants to halt their rocket fire on southern Israel and to cripple arms-smuggling operations. The fighting stopped before Israel achieved those aims. Ban was due to visit three UN facilities that became battlegrounds during the war, including a school where nearly 40 Palestinians who had sought refuge from the fighting were killed in an Israeli shelling. He also planned a stop at the UN's Gaza headquarters, which were heavily damaged by Israeli fire. The UN chief personally intervened during the war to try to stop the violence, and said over the weekend that he was sending a team to assess the humanitarian needs so the United Nations could issue an emergency appeal for funds.

The first estimates by independent surveyors said Gaza lost nearly $2 billion in assets, including 4,100 homes, about 1,500 factories and workshops, 20 mosques, 31 security compounds, and 10 water or sewage lines. Shattered glass and mounds of rubble littered city streets.

Homeowners digging through the debris in Gaza City, the territory's largest city, carried off vases, refrigerators, dishes and baby beds, some loading their goods into cars and trucks. Utility crews began planning repairs to electrical and sewage and water systems. A senior technician, Mofid Awad, said 80 percent of the electricity grid in Gaza City was damaged.

After visiting Gaza, Ban was scheduled to travel to the rocket-scarred Israeli town of Sderot. A false alarm of an incoming rocket in southern Israel earlier in the day set off fears that the shaky truce hadn't even lasted two full days.

While Ban was busy trying to marshal a global response to the suffering in Gaza, Hamas was busy planning nine victory rallies across Gaza.

Although Israel scored a decisive battleground victory, Hamas claims its own victory because it managed to withstand the intense Israeli assault and fired hundreds of rockets into the Jewish state throughout the fighting.

"With full trust and full confidence I say the Palestinian people and the heroic resistance have won this battle," Mushir al-Masri, a Hamas official, said Monday. "Hamas today is stronger than any time before. ... The loser is the occupation." In a sign that Hamas remained in full control, Hamas security teams in uniforms patrolled Gaza City. Some Israeli observers have acknowledged that the tightly knit organization remains largely intact, despite the Israeli assault on fighters and weapons stores.