Tuesday, 20 January 2009

As Cease-Fire Takes Hold, Palestinian Universities Regroup and Israeli Colleges Reopen

DAILY NEWS BLOG: January 20, 2009

Jerusalem — Israeli and Palestinian colleges affected by the three-week Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip are resuming studies after Sunday’s cease-fire. But some Gaza campuses have been so badly damaged it could take many weeks to return to normal.

Many university buildings in Gaza suffered serious collateral damage from Israeli air strikes and a ground invasion. University officials said it was too early to say how many students and academics were among the 1,300 Palestinian dead and more than 4,000 wounded.

The most affected college was the Islamic University in Gaza City, which Israel made a specific target and accused of being a center for weapons development by Hamas. The university, with 20,000 students, is the largest in the Gaza Strip.

“We have two buildings completely destroyed — the science-laboratory block and the engineering-laboratory block — and 10 other buildings are partially damaged,” Islamic University’s president, Kamalain Shaath, told The Chronicle. “Our maintenance people are trying to make basic preparations and fix things up. The water connections, electricity, Internet, and phone are all damaged. The e-mail is down.”

Mr. Shaath estimated it would cost $10-million to repair the damage to buildings and equipment.

He said he hoped that faculty members would be able to return to the campus on Saturday. Students were supposed to take their fall-semester examinations when the war broke out. The exams will probably resume in about two weeks.

Officials at other universities, which suffered indirect damage, hope to resume exams on the weekend. Yahya Sarraj, dean of the University College of Applied Sciences, said he was planning how to accommodate his 6,000 students while the damage was being repaired.

“There is indirect damage from shells which destroyed some classrooms, laboratories, and computer equipment,” Mr. Sarraj said. “We might resume the exams on Saturday, but we will have to find other rooms. We might use the cafeteria and whatever space is available.”

Across the border, Israeli colleges have already resumed full activity. Staff members at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, in Beersheba, worked through the emergency even as rockets fell near the campus, causing some damage to buildings. A business-studies lecturer was badly wounded in a rocket attack last Thursday as she drove home. The university’s 17,000 students returned to classes today.

At Sapir College, in Sderot, which was the target of most Hamas rocket attacks for the past eight years, classes resumed more than a week ago. In the past, rockets fell directly on the college, killing one student, but the campus suffered only minor damage during the most recent violence.

“We decided to add one week to the semester, and we have shortened the exam period by a week,” said a college spokesman, Simon Tamir. “A handful of students have left because of the situation — maybe 10 out of 6,000,” he said. —Matthew Kalman

Posted on Tuesday January 20, 2009

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