Airstrikes Dampen Mood In Gaza On Eid Al-Adha

The religious holiday Eid al-Adha, the Feast of the Sacrifice, began on Friday across the Muslim world. What is normally a time of celebration is for the 1.6 million residents of the Gaza Strip a reminder of their desperate financial straits after five years of Israeli blockade. This week's fierce exchange of Palestinian rockets and Israeli air and artillery strikes has also sparked fears of another Israeli military operation in Gaza.

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Today marks the beginning of a major Muslim holiday, Eid al-Adha or the Feast of the Sacrifice. In the Gaza Strip, the holiday was preceded by a promise of much needed reconstruction funded by Qatar. But the mood turned gloomy amid a new round of airstrikes and rocket attacks between Israel and the Hamas militants who rule Gaza. NPR's Peter Kenyon just returned from Gaza. He sent this story.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAR STARTING)

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: At a car mechanic's shop in the northern Gaza neighborhood of Salahateen, 20-year-old Majdi al-Attar leans over a red sedan in need of a brake job and a new clutch. The fields near his house are sometimes used by militants to fire mortars and rockets toward Israel. He says the latest launches and Israeli reprisals, the biggest in months, were too close for comfort.

MAJDI AL-ATTAR: (Through Translator) I was sleeping at home with my wife, and when the explosions started, we just ran downstairs and tried to hide. We were both terrified.

KENYON: Up the road, 55-year-old Umm Ehab lives with her five sons and five daughters in a simple concrete farmhouse. She says each day when her sons go to work in the fields she worries they'll be mistaken for militants by Israel. The latest explosions reminded her of the Israeli military operation nearly four years ago that forced her family to hide in a school for three weeks.

UMM EHAB: (Through Translator) We are always tense, worrying about another invasion. Last time it was so terrible, we ran away, and they destroyed everything. Yesterday's good feeling is gone, and it seems we're not yet ready for good news.

KENYON: The good feeling was a reference to Tuesday's visit by the emir of Qatar, who defied the Israeli blockade of Gaza to tour neighborhoods and promised some $400 million in reconstruction projects. Umm Ehab says, in general, there's not much to celebrate.

EHAB: (Through Translator) This doesn't look like a good Eid. There will be no happiness, not for the kids, not for the adults.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHATTER)

KENYON: In Gaza City, an Egyptian circus troupe is hoping to remedy that. A red tent - medium, rather than big top - is going up, and high-wire artists, jugglers and clowns are getting ready to perform. Manager Khalil Goma says he hopes families will find the wherewithal to attend.

KHALIL GOMA: (Through Translator) Of course, I hope many will come. These people, they're so depressed, so desperate, they need to have something new, something fun for the kids. I think they'll come.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHATTER)

KENYON: In another corner of the city, a makeshift stockyard has been set up, with a few dozen sheep and goats in one pen and cows in another. The holiday begins with the slaughter of animals, and the meat is shared with the poor. Butcher Hazem al-Khodary says this year sales are dismal.

HAZEM AL-KHODARY: (Foreign language spoken)

KENYON: Usually, a couple of days before the feast, he says, I've sold 150 goats and 25 cows; this year, so far, only 40 goats and just 11 cows. People just aren't buying. Even the traditional, date-filled holiday cookies and pastries are going unbought this year. Baker Yacoub Dashan surveys the full shelves in his nearly empty family bakery.

YACOUB DASHAN: (Through Translator) It's not looking anything like Eid. I haven't seen one like this. Normally, if you came at this time, I wouldn't even be able to talk with you. I'd be so busy. But here, you see, there's almost no customers. I can't feel any Eid happiness.

KENYON: Never ones to give up, Gazans say maybe the Qatari money will bring jobs and a better economy, and maybe Israel won't launch another invasion of Gaza. That's the closest thing to optimism they can muster this holiday season. Peter Kenyon, NPR News.

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