Azmi Keshawi in Bureij / The Times – 2009-01-03 00:31:15
GAZA CITY (January 01, 2009) — Their windows smashed in the dead of winter by bomb blasts, Jihad Hamed, his wife and seven children huddle together every night in one bedroom of their freezing house, trying to keep warm and as far away as possible from the next explosion, wherever it might come from.
Aside from the terror of the Israeli bombs, Gazans also have to contend with more insidious enemies: cold, hunger, and the risk of falling ill when almost all medical supplies have run out.
There has been no electricity for days, causing pumps to fail and water supplies to run dry. Toilets and showers are a forgotten luxury for a population merely trying to stay alive in a withering aerial blitz that has shocked even war-hardened Gazans.
“Now the situation is tragic for me and the kids,” said Mr Hatem, a 45-year-old caretaker, whose family survives on his meager salary of 900 shekels (£164) a month. “I’m sure my kids will get sick from the cold and I don’t have the money to buy any medicine, and the hospitals can only take seriously wounded people.” Even before the onslaught started, Mr Hamed struggled to get by, often having to rely on the charity of richer neighbours. “Now the rich and poor are the same, you can’t buy electricity,” because for those lucky enough to have generators, almost no fuel can get into the blockaded territory. “Rich and poor are in the same boat,” he said.
Hatem Baana, the manager of a medical supply store, said many of his medical products spoiled because without electricity his storage fridges no longer work. Desperate aid groups supporting Gaza’s overwhelmed hospitals have contacted him to buy whatever he might have, but he cannot help them.
And Hatem al-Shurab, an aid worker for the British charity Islamic Relief, said that some people had been reduced to foraging for wild mallow plants as their emergency food stocks dwindled to nothing. “People are finding it hard to feed their families,” he said.
Even in her cold homes, Gazans do not feel safe, since they do not know what constitutes a target for the Israeli bombers which have broadened their mission to include mosques, sport centres, and even money changers transferring funds for Hamas.
Recorded phone messages warn people their buildings will be blown up if there are Hamas members there: the problem is that nobody really knows if their neighbour might be a member of Hamas’s shadowy military wing.
“Nobody knows what the next target will be,” said Mr al-Shurab.
Police are still patrolling important areas such as markets and hospitals to prevent looting or robberies, but to avoid being hit they wear civilian clothes and keep their pistols tucked down the back of the trousers. They have vowed to track down anyone daring to exploit the chaos to loot or rob.
Cold, hungry and afraid, Gazans are directing their anger at their neighbours. “I blame the Arab countries first and foremost,” said Mr Hamed. “They are the once who have left us to our fate without any support. We are civilians, we have no hand in political disputes. We are the victims of both the siege and of politics.”
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