The Telegraph reports: The horrific scars disfigure Mona Abu Mraleel’s otherwise strikingly beautiful face. Swathes of bandages cover the injuries the 17-year-old sustained to her arms and legs in a blaze from which she narrowly escaped with her life.
Still racked by pain from burns to 40 per cent of her body, she goes to hospital on a daily basis to have her dressings changed. Specialist doctors are preparing to carry out a delicate skin graft operation in the coming days.
Yet the hospital on which her recovery depends is woefully ill-fitted to the task – riddled by equipment failures, power cuts and shortages in a mounting crisis that doctors fear is leading to a “health catastrophe”.
Mona lives in Gaza, the impoverished Palestinian coastal enclave where chronic fuel shortages have led to electricity cuts of up to 18 hours a day and reduced ordinary life and public services to a standstill.
She is just one of many Gazans suffering in a rapidly worsening economic climate that this week prompted the British Foreign Office minister, Hugh Robertson, to demand urgent action to restore an adequate fuel supply to the territory. [Continue reading...]
The Economist: In the vanguard of the Islamist surge across the region a few years ago, Gaza’s Islamists now feel like the last men standing. Trapped between the Mediterranean sea and the walls of two hostile neighbours, Egypt and Israel, they wonder how long they, too, can survive. “It’s hopeless,” cries a senior man from Hamas, the Palestinians’ Islamist movement. “We tried democracy and we failed. We tried to reach out to the Israelis, accepting two states, and failed. We tried the armed struggle, and we paid the price.”
In olden times a crossroads between Africa and Asia, the tiny enclave of Gaza has rarely felt more isolated. Egypt’s generals, who took power last summer, have destroyed 90% of the tunnels through which Gaza got its fuel, shrouding the place in darkness. Mothers wake at midnight when the electricity briefly flickers on, to flush toilets and iron clothes. Lifts in high-rise buildings do not work. Sewage flows untreated. Farmers, unable to irrigate their fields, face ruin. “I should never have tried it,” says the owner of a hotel that opened last summer, overlooking Gaza’s picturesque port. Paying for his generators costs him more than he earns in a night.
Much of the mess is of Hamas’s own making. Carried away by the Arab awakening, its politburo abandoned its old patrons in Syria and Iran and rushed to embrace the Islamists who had taken power in Egypt. But the fall of its president, Muhammad Morsi, has left Hamas friendless. It has been kept out of the current negotiations, under America’s aegis, between Palestine and Israel. The only time the world seems to notice Gaza is when violence erupts. Gazans say they have dropped off the map. [Continue reading...]
The Washington Post reports: Just a year ago, Israel and the Gaza Strip’s Hamas rulers fought a lopsided eight-day war in the skies that the United Nations said left more than 160 Palestinians and six Israelis dead.
The period since last November’s cease-fire, though, has been the calmest between the two sides in more than a decade.
Israeli military commanders, although still wary of armed factions in Gaza, offer unexpected praise for Hamas, the Islamist militant and political organization that governs the enclave. Not only have Hamas and its armed military wing shown restraint, the Israeli commanders say, but they also have demonstrated that they can rein in the more radical factions, such as Islamic Jihad, that operate alongside them.
“Hamas was able to prove to us that it can control rocket fire from Gaza,” said Brig. Gen. Mickey Edelstein, commander of the Israeli military’s Gaza division. “This is an achievement.” [Continue reading...]
The New York Times reports: Israeli military strikes killed four Palestinian militants from the military wing of Hamas, the Islamic group that controls Gaza, late Thursday and early Friday after five Israeli soldiers were wounded in an explosion near the Israel-Gaza border.
It was the deadliest confrontation in the area since November 2012, when an Israeli offensive set off eight days of fierce cross-border fighting, which ended with a fragile, Egyptian-brokered cease-fire.
The episode began late Thursday when Israeli soldiers from an elite engineering unit were on a mission to destroy part of a mile-long tunnel running beneath the border from Gaza into Israel. The military discovered the tunnel last month and said it could have been used for an attack against Israeli soldiers or civilians.
The Israeli forces were apparently working on both sides of the border. The military said in a statement that during the operation, Hamas detonated an explosive device that wounded five soldiers and that soldiers fired back in response. Gaza security officials and witnesses said one militant had been killed and several injured when the Israeli forces fired a tank shell at a group of Hamas gunmen. [Continue reading...]
The Guardian reports: In Gaza City’s main market Mohammed Hilis stood disconsolately among piles of fruit and vegetables, waiting for customers. In the runup to Eid al-Adha, the second most important festival in the Muslim calendar, the market was unusually quiet. Steep price rises, unpaid salaries and layoffs – the consequences of the new Egyptian regime’s antipathy towards Hamas – have been painfully felt by the Gaza Strip.
“A kilo of tomatoes used to be one shekel [17p]; now it is five shekels. Most prices have gone up 50 – 60%,” said Hilis. “Why? Because of the costs of transportation, because there is no power to pump water to the fields, because there is no water. So people buy less.” As a result, his wages have slumped from 30 – 20 shekels a day, playing its small part in propelling the downward spiral of Gaza’s economy.
Six years after Israel imposed a stranglehold on Gaza as a punitive measure against the Hamas government, the strip of land along the Mediterranean is facing a new chokepoint from the south. After the Egyptian military forced President Mohamed Morsi out of office in July amid a brutal crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, the army embarked on a drive to regain control of the anarchic Sinai peninsula, isolate the Brotherhood’s allies in neighbouring Gaza, and halt the traffic in goods, weapons and people through the tunnels under the border with the Palestinian territory.
According to the commander of Egypt’s border guards force, Major-General Ahmad Ibrahim, almost 800 tunnels have been destroyed by his troops this year. Hamas is coy about the number of tunnels put out of action. But Hatem Owida, Gaza’s deputy economic minister, said activity had been reduced by 80-90% since the military takeover in Egypt. [Continue reading...]
Ma’an News Agency reports: The Egyptian army has established a precautionary plan for military intervention in the Gaza Strip if attacks on Egyptian troops in the Sinai Peninsula intensify, Egyptian security officials said Wednesday.
Officials told Ma’an that Egyptian reconnaissance planes had entered the Gaza Strip’s airspace and examined a number of locations in Rafah and Khan Younis to be targeted if military attacks against Egyptian troops intensify in Sinai.
Egyptian aircraft could also target vehicles which travel across the border area delivering smuggled goods, sources added. More smuggling tunnels could also be destroyed, and sources highlighted that “all options are open.”
According to Egyptian military sources, the ongoing attacks in Sinai are carried out by organizations based both in Sinai Peninsula and in the Gaza Strip.
Certain militant groups in the Gaza Strip, according to Egyptian officials, are “behind the violence” in Sinai, including Ansar al-Sunna, which has ties to Hamas, as well as Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, among others.
As a result, sources argue that in order to maintain control over the Sinai, the Egyptian army has no choice but to shut down all smuggling tunnels and strike targets in Gaza if further red lines are crossed.
“The Egyptian army does not believe the population of Gaza is involved in the violence in Sinai, but certain factions strongly support Sinai groups. The tunnels play a major role in the communication between both sides,” a senior Egyptian official told Ma’an.
“In addition, Hamas, although its involvement is limited, is responsible for maintaining control of the smuggling tunnels as well as the factions operating in the coastal enclave,” he added.
The Guardian reports: The usually clogged streets of Gaza City are noticeably quieter. Hospitals are warning that their emergency reserves of fuel, used to power generators, are running dangerously low. Construction sites that until recently throbbed with the sound of heavy machinery are deserted.
Palestinians in Gaza are feeling the impact of regime change in next-door Egypt. Since the Egyptian president, Mohammed Morsi, was ousted by the military on 3 July, not only have Gaza’s rulers, Hamas, lost their close political allies, but the Egyptian army has clamped down on the smuggling trade through the tunnels, which for six years have been a major lifeline for the 1.7m population of the tiny coastal strip.
The Egyptian authorities have targeted the underground passages as part of a drive to regain control of the vast Sinai desert, whose population is hostile to Cairo.
At the height of the black market trade between Gaza and Egypt, there were thought to be more than 1,000 tunnels employing around 7,000 people – providing Hamas with an income from taxes and permits of millions of dollars a month, estimated at 40% of the government’s revenue. But Egypt is thought to have closed or destroyed around 80% of the tunnels.
“The Gaza Strip has lost around $225m during the past month due to the halt of imports, namely fuel and crude materials for construction, such as cement, gravel and steel,” said the Hamas economy minister, Alaa al-Rafati. [Continue reading...]
Al Monitor reports: During rehearsals in a music school in Gaza, Firas al-Sharafi, age 10, and his friend Abdel Aziz Abu Sharkh, age 11, were playing a song by Lebanese singer Fairuz. The two boys were playing the dulcimer, reading musical notes and occasionally glancing at each other with a smile on their faces.
They dream of joining a big musical group that plays both Eastern and Western musical instruments. Their dream moved closer to reality when they enrolled in the only music school in Gaza five years ago. They go to the school three times a week, and they have mastered the art of reading music and playing both the dulcimer and percussion instruments.
Firas and Abdel Aziz know that their school faces a major challenge this year: financial problems have left the school on the brink of closure. The school had been free to attend, but students now have to pay roughly $600 a year.
“Closing the school would truly sadden us,” Abdel Aziz told Al-Monitor. “What will we do if it closes? Where will we go to learn music? We will continue to send endless emails to people to help our school. I will also make a film about the school to give people an incentive to donate.”
AFP/MENA: Israel is easing its blockade of Gaza to allow construction materials and other goods into the enclave under the terms of a truce deal mediated by Egypt.
The decision allows private companies and individuals to import construction materials that were previously restricted exclusively to international aid groups under the terms of Israel’s blockade, AFP reported.
The truce between Israel and Gaza’s leaders Hamas ended more than a week of Israeli air strikes and Palestinian rocket fire last month.
This is the first time Israel has allowed such goods into Gaza since 2007, said Palestinian customs official Raed Fattouh.
Starting on Sunday up to 20 trucks carrying gravel will be allowed into the strip daily Sunday through Thursday via the Karem Abu Salem border crossing in southeast Gaza, Fattouh said. Karam Abu Salem is the only commercial crossing open to the transport of goods and fuel and is closed on Fridays and Saturdays.
Israel is also allowing 207 trucks to cross into Gaza carrying aid supplies, commercial, agricultural and transportation equipment and large quantities of cement, iron and gravel, Fattouh said in a statement Thursday.
The Associated Press also reports: An Egyptian security official says that thousands of tons of building materials such as cement and steel are crossing into the Palestinian Gaza Strip, which had previously been under a strict blockade.
He said the move was made in consultation with Israeli officials, who were in Cairo Thursday to discuss security in the Sinai Peninsula and the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire signed by Gaza’s Hamas rulers and Israel last month.
The Egyptian official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
The director of Gaza’s border authority, Maher Abu Sabha, confirmed to The Associated Press that 20 trucks of material are expected to enter the coastal strip on Saturday through the Rafah crossing. Qatar is paying for the raw materials, which were bought in Egypt.
Noam Chomsky writes: An old man in Gaza held a placard that reads: “You take my water, burn my olive trees, destroy my house, take my job, steal my land, imprison my father, kill my mother, bombard my country, starve us all, humiliate us all but I am to blame: I shot a rocket back.”
The old man’s message provides the proper context for the timelines on the latest episode in the savage punishment of Gaza. They are useful, but any effort to establish a “beginning” cannot help but be misleading. The crimes trace back to 1948, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled in terror or were expelled to Gaza by conquering Israeli forces, who continued to truck them over the border for years after the official cease-fire. The persecution of Gazans took new forms when Israel conquered the Strip in 1967. From recent Israeli scholarship we learn that the goal of the government was to drive the refugees into the Sinai, and if feasible the rest of the population too.
Expulsions from Gaza were carried out under the direct orders of General Yeshayahu Gavish, commander of the Southern Command. Expulsions from the West Bank were far more extreme, and Israel resorted to devious means to prevent the return of those expelled, in direct violation of Security Council orders. The reasons were made clear in internal discussion immediately after the war. Golda Meir, later Prime Minister, informed her Labor colleagues that Israel should keep the Gaza Strip while “getting rid of its Arabs.” Defense Minister Dayan and others agreed. Prime Minister Eshkol explained that those expelled cannot be allowed to return because “We cannot increase the Arab population in Israel” – referring to the newly occupied territories, already tacitly considered part of Israel. In accord with this conception, all of Israel’s maps were changed, expunging the Green Line (the internationally recognized borders), though publication was delayed to permit UN Ambassador Abba Eban to attain what he called “favorable impasse” at the General Assembly, by concealing Israel’s intentions. [Continue reading...]