Adel Zaanoun, Agence France Presse, Arab News
GAZA CITY, 16 October 2004
There will be no traditional lantern for five-year-old Yussef
this Ramadan as his mother has only just enough money to feed her family over the course of the holy month in the beleaguered
Gaza Strip. Despite the hardships, the youngster’s mother, Umm Alaa, refuses to despair.
At two dollars, the intricately colored lantern is a luxury
her family cannot afford in such troubled times for the impoverished territory.
Exhausted by four years of violence since the outbreak of
the Palestinian uprising, the people of Gaza — one of the most densely populated spots on the planet — have little
heart for the traditional festivities.
The mood in Gaza is particularly bleak this year, with Ramadan
beginning in the midst of an Israeli military offensive in the north of the territory which has killed 127 Palestinian civilians
since its launch on Sept. 28.
“The situation has never been so bad. We are so upset
about our fallen martyrs and the destruction of the houses in Jabaliya and Beit Lahiya” which have been the main target
of Operation Days of Penitence, said Umm Alaa. “People just have no money needed to buy the lanterns for their children
this year,” she added.
In the Al-Zawi Souk, the largest and oldest market in the
center of Gaza City, the shelves are still packed to the rafters as storeowners struggle to shift their stock.
According to statistics from the Palestinian Employment Ministry,
70 percent of Palestinians are trying to make ends meet on $1.5 a day or less.
“Everyone asks about the price of my goods but most
can’t afford them,” said Imad who runs a grocery in the bazaar. “Every year, people are getting poorer as
unemployment grows and the roads are cut,” he added.
Gaza’s economy has been hit by a four-year downward
spiral with access to work in Israel heavily restricted while the main north-south Salaheddine road is subject to frequent
With journeys across the territory now so tortuous, many
families have abandoned the idea of traveling to see relatives over the holy month.
The situation is grimmer still in the Jabaliya refugee camp,
the main focus of Days of Penitence, with residents terrified of leaving their houses for fear of being caught up in the clashes
between the Palestinian resitance and the Israeli occupying forces.
“The world must put pressure on Israel to put an end
to its aggressions, as it has no respect for the sanctity of Ramadan,” said Jabaliya resident Mohammed Al-Washahi.
In the alleyways of the camp, children have a clear view
of Israeli occupation tanks which sporadically unleash their shells. Israeli occupation helicopters and unmanned drones also
fly frequently overhead.
Israel’s Deputy Defense Minister Zeev Boim said yesterday
that the offensive was being scaled down, citing Ramadan as one of the reasons. “We have no desire to make it difficult
for the population,” Boim told public radio.
But the minister said that the government would not order
an end to the operation which claimed the lives of three more resistance fighters in an air strike in Jabaliya yesterday.
Tens of thousands of Muslims joined the first Friday prayers
of Ramadan at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque watched by Israeli occupation police while they pray.
Around 90,000 people were estimated to have attended prayers
at Islam’s third holiest site in the heart of the Old City, the vast majority Palestinians from east Jerusalem or Arab
Israelis although a small number of elderly West Bank residents were allowed in.
Israeli authorities on Thursday decided not to restrict access
to the mosque, despite initial safety fears over ongoing repair work.
The decision came after national police
chief Moshe Karadi and colleague Ilan Franco, who oversees the Jerusalem district, visited the compound to inspect ongoing
retaining works in an underground prayer room, and planned security measures.