Muhammad al-Samhuri, head of a technical team responsible for post-Israeli withdrawal projects, said: "Israel has not kept to its commitment to clear the rubble, which is an enormous obstacle to any development project.

"No project has been carried out and nothing has changed in the areas evacuated by the settlers and [Israeli] army."

But removing the thousands of tonnes of rubble should begin within a month now that a UN-Israeli agreement has been signed on funding, said Timothy Rothermel, a senior official from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which is responsible for managing the operation.

Negotiations with UN

"The reason nothing has been done is that we were negotiating with the Israeli government to reach a financial agreement," he said.

"The reason nothing has been done is that we were negotiating with the Israeli government to reach a financial agreement"

Timothy Rothermel,
UNDP official

"We have agreed. I think it will be concluded in a day or two on the Israeli side.

"Assuming things go well, we then have the preliminary work, so the actual clean-up should begin within about a month," Rothermel added.

The Israeli Ministry of Defence told Aljazeera.net that no information regarding the issue was currently available.

Some roads, formerly reserved for Jewish settlers, have been reopened and agricultural land rehabilitated, but mountains of masonry and twisted metal, the remains of 1200 settler houses, remain immovable until this day.

Clearing operation

Rothermel said the estimated cost of the clearing operation, which is expected to take about one year, would be just under $25 million.

The operation to first clear then recycle the rubble will be carried out by Palestinian contractors bidding for the tenders offered through the UNDP.

All non-recyclable material will be transferred to a third country of Israel's choice, mostly probably the Sinai desert in Egypt.

Settlers were accused of
sabotaging irrigation systems 
before leaving

"Most of the rubble is being recycled. It is mainly concrete and the main use of it would be as base coat for road rehabilitation and construction," said Rothermel.

But even if no construction work has begun, the Palestinian Authority has restored 300 out of 400 hectares of greenhouses that were bought from the settlers for $14 million, funds for which were provided by private donors.

Two hundred hectares of the greenhouses have been planted and the first harvest is soon to be exported to Europe, said Basel Jaber, director of the Palestinian economic and development company operating the hothouses.

So far, the greenhouses have provided jobs to nearly 4000 Palestinian workers, most of whom worked for their original settler owners, Jaber said.

Sabotage

"Sabotage of the water distribution network [by Israeli settlers] and pillaging of the hothouses [by Palestinians] after the Israeli withdrawal, caused damage which we had to repair. It was not an easy task," he said.

Israel withdrew from the territory on 12 September and handed the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian Authority after a 38-year occupation, leaving behind mountains of debris from 21 illegal Jewish civilian enclaves that had been flattened.

For years, nearly 8000 settlers expropriated a quarter of the surface area of Gaza at the expense of 1.3 million Palestinians living in one of the most densely populated strips of land on earth.