Gaza Misery Growing Under Israeli Embargo, Attacks
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Another leader visiting the U.S. this week is Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Last night he addressed the United Nations and made a promise. He says any unity government formed to run Palestinian areas will recognize Israel and renounce violence.
However, Palestinians do not appear unified on that point. Hamas, a group that would have to be part of that unity government says it could accept a long-term truce but will not recognize Israel.
Western nations have been demanding that Hamas renounce violence and they cut off aid after the group's election victor this year. That is one factor leading to a dramatic drop in living standards in the place we're going next, the Gaza Strip. Another factor leading to a dramatic drop in living standards in the Gaza strip, another is strikes by Israel's military, which have continued since an Israeli soldier was captured in June. NPR's Peter Kenyon reports.
PETER KENYON: The streets of Gaza are still alive with activity. Some of which bears a resemblance to what passes for normal life in this tightly surrounded enclave of 1.4 million Palestinians. Uniformed school children race up and down sidewalks, but many of the shops they pass are locked and shuttered. The holy month of Ramadan begins this weekend, but this year no one has the money to buy the usual gifts and special foods. Palestinian authority employees haven't received regular salaries since March, and western aid was drastically reduced after the Islamist Hamas faction came to power in January elections.
The optimism that followed the withdrawal of Jewish settlers and troops last year has soured into anger and more violence - both internal and external. Palestinian human rights workers say the Israeli army has killed more than 33 civilians since August 1st, 10 of them under the age of 18. In addition, militants have been killed by Israeli forces as radical factions resumed launching rockets into Israel and plotting other attacks. Equally devastating to Gazans have been the murders, deaths, and extortion carried out by their own people, often members of the security services.
On a dusty side street, Monir(ph) Afana(ph) sits with family members and recalls his brother Hader(ph), who was gunned down by masked men in the neighborhood on June 1st. Afana says it's true his brother joined the preventive security service, which has clashed repeatedly with newer Hamas linked security forces, but he says his brother was just in the public relations department. Afana sounds like a man who's lost any hope that law and order can be restored to Gaza.
AFANA (Gaza Resident): (Through translator) We're going to be destroyed completely. People believe that this is the worst. No. We're going to see worse and worse. Everybody has a gun, the security forces are away, every one is taking the law by his own hand. You ask me where is Gaza is going, to the civil war of course.
KENYON: In Gaza's beach camp, one of numerous overcrowded feted concrete camps built more than a half century ago to house Palestinians displaced in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, 66-year-old Fhat(ph) Natobe(ph), sits with some of her sister-in-laws' seven children in a tiny two-room structure. Three birdcages hang on the walls, and when the sun hits one of the cages the birds begin chirping and flapping against the bars. Natobe is a large woman with a round face and a nearly toothless smile. She has lived in this camp since it was built. Having fled her home in Jaffa, adjacent to Tel Aviv, during the 48 war. She's lived through several more wars and two Intifadas since then, but she says this is one of the worst period she can recall.
Ms. FHAT NATOBE (Gaza Resident): (Through translator) It is much worse than before. We saw nothing. We are really, really living in much worse than before. Everybody is crying again - everybody. There is no food, no money.
KENYON: Pushing one of her young nephews away from a reporter's microphone, Natobe gestures the three large sacks of U.N.-provided food in the corner. Saying if it weren't for the aid, the family would go hungry. The living conditions are severe - ten people in a single room, eating on the hallway under a 50-year-old plastic roof that in winter freely lets in the rain. Natobe says at least one of the children is constantly sick. Despite the obvious lack of privacy, her sister-in-law next week is due to deliver her eighth child. Like many Palestinians who used to complain about the late Yasser Arafat, Fhat Natobe, now wishes that Arafat - also known as Abu Ammar - was still around.
Ms. NATOBE: (Through translator) The time of Abu Ammar it was much better. May God bless his soul. If we see another five hundred leaders, we will not find one like him.
KENYON: The Hamas led government and President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah movement, hoped to end the western aid embargo by forming a unity government, but few residents of Gaza are expecting any Ramadan miracles in the coming weeks. Peter Kenyon, NPR News.
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