Saturday, 12 July 2014

Ramadan in Gaza: life under missile-fire


In Gaza's largely deserted streets, the first thing you notice is the absence of children.

The beach, usually crowded on Friday afternoons, is empty save for a handful of fishermen casting hand nets into the surf next to the harbour wall.

Al-Azhar park – next to the university of the same name – and Barcelona park with its climbing frames, lawns and basketball courts, are empty.

The few children who are outside play in the sheltered spaces between tall apartment blocks and the narrow lanes of the poorer neighbourhoods, a few feet from their doors under the watchful eyes of their parents: places deemed safer from bomb blasts.

It is the fourth day of Israel's intensive bombing campaign of the Gaza Strip, and more than 100 Palestinians have been killed, many of them children. More than 670 are injured. Families here have settled into a tense wartime regime, a daily routine hard-learned from Israel's previous military campaigns of 2008-09 and 2012.

Unlike Israel, there are no bomb shelters in Gaza. There are no sirens to warn of incoming missiles and no Iron Dome to shoot them down. The only warning, and one provided only intermittently, is that from those dropping the bombs – supplied by phone, text or a warning shot to the roof.

Under the ever-present hum of circling drones, squeal of jets, bomb-blasts and the thud of naval gunfire from the sea, most women and children are stuck indoors, often in buildings without electricity.

These families have been caught in a tragic catch-22. Afraid to leave their homes when the Israeli warplanes do drop their bombs on Gaza's neighbourhoods, it is the women and children sheltering in the buildings where they instinctively feel safest who are dying.

Israel has said it is training its missiles on Gaza's homes – a practice the United Nations Human Rights Office says may violate international law – because Hamas and other militants are hiding inside.

"We have received disturbing reports that many of the civilian casualties, including of children, occurred as a result of strikes on homes," Ravina Shamdasani, a UN spokeswoman said on Thursday. "Such reports raise doubts about whether the Israeli air strikes have been in accordance with international humanitarian law and international human rights law."

The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has rejected the criticism of international and local human rights groups and vowed to continue with the campaign. "No international pressure will prevent Israel from continuing its operation in Gaza … The leaders of Hamas are hiding behind the citizens of Gaza, and they are responsible for all casualties," he said.

For the 1.8 million people living in Gaza, this means that long Ramadan days – from before dawn until the late bedtime traditional during the fasting month – will continue to be defined by limited exposure to the open air. more

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