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For Gaza's homeless, holiday is time for despair

In the days leading up to Eid al-Adha, Zaid Khadar would usually be buying new clothes for his children and stocking up on traditional foods to celebrate one of the most important dates on the Muslim calendar.

Instead, he struggles to shield them from the winter rain dripping through the roof of the shelter that has housed his family since they were made homeless by Israel's three-week offensive in the Gaza Strip almost a year ago.

"My children are saying: 'Why aren't you bringing us clothes? Why don't you get a sheep to slaughter?'" said Khadar.

For the homeless in Gaza, this year's Eid al-Adha, which falls on Friday, is a time to reflect on all they have lost in a year when already tough conditions in the blockaded territory of 1.5 million people went from bad to worse.

Hundreds of Gaza families made homeless during the war still live in tents, the United Nations says. Many more are living in the ruins of their houses or with relatives.

Reconstruction has been hampered by the Israeli blockade that stops materials such as cement and steel reaching the Hamas-ruled territory, despite billions of dollars of aid pledges. U.N. officials have expressed concern about the added hardship the homeless will face as winter sets in.


Imposing the Gaza blockade with Egyptian help, Israel says it restricts the supply of materials that could be used for military purposes by Hamas and other armed groups which say they are bent on the destruction of the Jewish state.

Israel launched the war in late December with the stated aim of halting those groups' rocket attacks from Gaza. These had traumatised nearby Israeli towns, though deaths were few.

For Khadar, 45, the result of the Israeli attack was the destruction of the three-storey apartment block he had worked his entire life to build. He also lost the ground-floor grocery store which had been his main source of income.

His family, including seven children, now lives on the rubble of their former home in a shelter made of plastic sheets and blankets. The shelter is supplied with power by a precarious spaghetti of wires.


ANGER AT HAMAS AND FATAH

For Gaza's homeless, holiday is time for despair"Not once in my whole life have I lived in a tent. Not me, my wife or my children," said Khadar, describing how his life's savings, like many Gazans mostly earned as a construction worker in Israel in the 1980s and 90s, had gone into the building.

"It was as if we had achieved nothing our entire lives," he said, speaking beside the rubble in Hay al-Salam in the northern Gaza Strip.

Like others, Khadar struggles to rebuild with what is available, either salvaging materials from the rubble or buying supplies brought into Gaza through tunnels from Egypt. Cement now costs five times what it did before supplies were restricted.

With no income, he has been forced to borrow to begin building a modest home. Unable to remove the rubble from his land, he has incurred further costs by renting an adjacent plot.

Khadar did not mask his anger with the Hamas government for what he said was its failure to help. "The government says: 'We are under siege, like you,'" he said. "But they get salaries each month," he said. "We have paid a very heavy price."

Hamas, which won Palestinian legislative elections in 2006, faces international isolation over policies including its refusal to agree to interim peace deals with Israel.

Unlike the rival, secular Fatah movement headed by the Ramallah-based Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Hamas does not support a permanent peace deal with Israel.

Restrictions placed on supplies to Gaza after Hamas won the elections were further tightened when the group took complete control of the territory by force in 2007. Israel had pulled out its troops and settlers two years previously.

The sense that Gaza has been forgotten by the international community only increases as Eid al-Adha approaches, Khadar said.

International donors pledged $4.5 billion in March to help rebuild Gaza and bolster Abbas's rule in the West Bank, but much of the money has not been dispersed due to the blockade and the Fatah-Hamas split that has led to rival governments.

"The governments do not take care of us: neither the Hamas government, nor the Ramallah government. The same goes for the Muslim world. Shame on them," he said.

"Give me work so I can feed my children. Is it fair that your children can celebrate Eid and mine can't?"

Source: Reuters

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