Monday 26 September 2016

Gaza Dispatch: 'Life is more difficult. It doesn't matter how long you're patient, you lose hope'

Kevin Doyle & Mark Condren

Published 04/06/2015 | 02:30

A crackdown on Isil supporters in Gaza has heightened tensions there a month ahead of the first anniversary of Hamas's 50-day war with Israel.

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The local leader of an extremist Islamic splinter group was shot dead on Tuesday, just as three fishermen were injured at sea by Israeli forces.

There was further unrest last night as five more fishermen were arrested and taken away for questioning, amid claims they went too close to the Israeli sea blockade. Separately, a 22-year-old farmer was injured after being fired at near the southern border.

A cousin of one of the fishermen told the Irish Independent: "When they arrest you, they take you to an Israeli jail before sending you back across the border. It could be hours, days or weeks."

Hind (5) and Tahani Awedat (3) who were orphaned during the Gaza war in 2012 and saw their home destroyed by Israeli tanks during the 50-day war in 2014.
Photo: Mark Condren
Hind (5) and Tahani Awedat (3) who were orphaned during the Gaza war in 2012 and saw their home destroyed by Israeli tanks during the 50-day war in 2014. Photo: Mark Condren

Almost a year since the last major conflict, the situation is like a pressure cooker. Red alert sirens rang out near the southern Israel-Gaza border around 11pm last night after two missiles landed in open areas on the Israeli side. It is believed the rockets were fired from within Gaza but no injuries were reported.

Last week, a rocket launch from Gaza was met with an immediate retaliatory attack from Israel.

Fears that the area is being infiltrated by radical jihadists are growing. Checkpoints were set up across the city last night at the end of a 48-hour ultimatum issued by Isil supporters for Hamas to stop targeting them. Hamas began a campaign last month against the largest Islamist group in Gaza, known as Salafists.

The man killed this week, Younis Hounor (27), was allegedly a senior member of the Salafists. Hamas said he had booby-trapped a house and had explosive belts and rocket-propelled grenades.

A woman hangs clothes inside her bombed-out home in Gaza City. Photo: Mark Condren
A woman hangs clothes inside her bombed-out home in Gaza City. Photo: Mark Condren

Practically no homes have been reconstructed in the past 11 months and tens of thousands are living among rubble, many in four-storey buildings ready to collapse.

Elsewhere, school has finished for the summer and children have little to do except collect scrap metal for money or play in the ruins. We came across Hind (5) and Tahani Awedat (3) on a makeshift swing in the shadow of their former home.

They lost their father to a bomb in 2012, and their home to a tank in 2014. Until six weeks ago, they were sleeping in tents but now they share a small cabin with 25 others.

Their grandmother Sabri (63) says they play in the wreck of their home "to try to recreate the memories buried under the rubble".

Two unexploded missiles were recently found at the site and Sabri fears there are more. "We have no hope," she says. "Life is becoming more difficult. It doesn't matter how long you try to be patient, you lose hope."

She says that there is nothing in front of the children "except education". It's a view widely shared in Gaza, but schools are only able to offer four hours of class most days. International aid bodies are trying to help but the situation is volatile.

A woman hangs clothes inside her bombed-out home in Gaza City. Photo: Mark Condren
A woman hangs clothes inside her bombed-out home in Gaza City. Photo: Mark Condren

Peter Power, executive director of Unicef Ireland who is currently in Gaza, said: "Since the war last year, Gaza is in a very fragile state. We call on all parties who can bring influence to bear on the conflict to exercise maximum restraint and to protect the children."

Journalist Esraa Ebrahm (28) gave birth to her first child last year. She calls Mousse "the war child" and has little belief that the conflict is really over.

To help the children of Gaza, visit www.unicef.ie

Irish Independent

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