- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 24, 2002

JERUSALEM On the eve of a donor conference aimed at raising money for the war-torn West Bank, diplomats and aid workers estimated yesterday it would take about $700 million and at least a year to repair the devastation caused by Israel's three-week incursion.

The officials, who hope to come up with a precise figure by the time the two-day conference opens in Norway today, are scouring the West Bank to catalogue shattered homes, punctured water pipes, downed electricity lines and ripped up roads.

The same donors that have propped up the Palestinian Authority for the last eight years Europe, the United States and Arab countries are expected to come through again.

But some are grumbling about having to finance projects that Israel has repeatedly destroyed.

"We estimate the replacement cost will reach $700 million, if not more," said a Western official involved in the assessment.

The World Bank, which is overseeing the evaluations, has divided the West Bank into zones and sent diplomats from European donor countries to each area to conduct the assessments.

In Jenin, Norwegian envoy Jens Mjaugedal and his team have been going street-to-street for the last five days, using aerial photographs from before and after the fighting to identify the destruction.

Jenin, a breeding ground of Palestinian militancy, was by far the hardest-hit area. At least 1,000 homes in the refugee camp, where Palestinian gunmen battled Israeli soldiers for 10 days, have been completely wrecked or damaged beyond repair, Mr. Mjaugedal said.

Hundreds of gunmen retreated to an area of the camp about the size of a football field during the fighting. After 23 soldiers died in gunbattles, Israel bulldozed the area, which was home to thousands of Palestinians.

"We're still in the emergency phase, trying to find shelter for thousands of people, and that could take months," said Mr. Mjaugedal, who serves as a deputy in the Norwegian Representative Office to the Palestinian Authority.

"The next stage is repairing the infrastructure and restoring normal life," he said.

In neighboring Nablus, another town racked by fighting, at least 260 homes were partially or completely destroyed, according to city officials. Much of the combat centered in Nablus' Old City, a maze of storefronts and alleyways.

There and elsewhere in the West Bank, water lines and electricity grids have been broken for much of the past three weeks.

Mark Zeitoun, a Canadian water engineer working in the Palestinian areas since January, said officials were concerned about sewage leaking from broken ducts and seeping into the water system, creating the danger of a cholera epidemic.

"The situation is atrocious. Some people had no water for 14 days. Crews have been out fixing pipes and pumps so things are better now, but we're still concerned about an outbreak of diseases," he said.

Mr. Zeitoun said much of the damage was caused by tank treads cutting through concrete and puncturing pipes. But he also thought evidence pointed to the deliberate sabotage of some water reservoirs and pumping stations.

Donor countries have provided about $500 million a year to the West Bank and Gaza Strip since Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat set up his administration in 1994 under terms of the first peace accord with Israel.

Some of the projects that Europe and the United States helped finance, like Gaza's airport and its unfinished port, have been repeatedly bombed by Israel.

Countries like Italy and Norway gave huge sums to refurbish Bethlehem's Manger Square and surrounding area ahead of the millennium celebration.

"Some of the countries that are willing to pay for the repairs now want assurances that Israel won't go in and wreck these places again," said a Western official, who asked not to be named.

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