In war-struck Gaza, civilians struggle to get by

Published on NewsOK Modified: July 28, 2014 at 7:06 am •  Published: July 28, 2014
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GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Caught in the fighting between Israel and Hamas, Gaza's civilians are increasingly struggling to get by. There is no electricity 21 hours a day because power lines have been hit. Water taps have run dry because there's no power to their fuel pumps and tens of thousands of displaced sleep on the floors of schools and hospitals.

The hardship is felt more keenly as Muslims on Monday start observing the Eid el-Fitr holiday, which is meant to be a joyous time of festive meals, shared traditional sweets and family visits. Here is a glimpse of life in wartime Gaza.

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Men kneel in prayer on blankets laid out in the courtyard of a U.N. school in Gaza City's Rimal neighborhood, one of dozens of emergency shelters for those who have fled the fighting.

It's the morning of Eid el-Fitr, the three-day holiday that caps the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. In normal times, the men would have worshipped at their neighborhood mosques.

However, 20 mosques have been hit by Israeli warplanes so far, according to Palestinian officials. Israel says Hamas stores weapons and rockets in houses of worship.

So the men prefer to perform Eid prayers in the relative safety of the school.

"We can't go to the mosque because of the shelling," says 39-year-old Mahmoud Nofal, who has lived at the shelter with 30 members of his extended family for more than a week.

Near the worshippers, many are still sleeping, some atop desks they pulled into the courtyard, others alongside walls.

After prayers, the men line up to pick up their food rations of pita bread, tuna, corned beef, processed cheese and extra holiday cookies for the children.

The U.N. aid agency that runs Gaza schools has been around for more than six decades. It was established after more than 700,000 Palestinians fled or were driven from their homes in the 1948 Mideast war that created Israel.

Nofal is a descendant of the 1948 refugees.

"Today, I feel like a refugee again," he says.

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Visiting the graves of one's ancestors is part of the Eid el-Fitr morning ritual.

At a sprawling cemetery in Gaza City's Sheik Radwan neighborhood, Omar Khatib stands on the edge of a large crater formed by an Israeli missile strike several days earlier, which he says destroyed 22 graves of his extended family.

A crowd quickly gathers, inspecting the hole and the broken headstones.

A young man climbs into the crater, retrieves a bone from the bottom and wraps it in cloth. Several men pray over the remains.

After a few minutes, another man brings a shovel and reburies the bone in the sandy soil.

"They are even chasing the dead," says the man who had climbed into the crater, referring to Israel's military operation. He's upset and only gives his first name, Yousef.

Israel says Gaza militants hide behind civilians, firing rockets at Israel from Gaza parks, schools and cemeteries. Israel says its military operation is meant to halt rocket fire and destroy Hamas' military arsenal and attack tunnels under the Israel-Gaza border.

Palestinian health officials have counted more than 1,000 dead in Gaza and the U.N. says three quarters of the casualties are civilians.

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