Rami Almeghari

Early each morning, Um Atiya makes toast on a mud stove. She has become reliant on the stove since Israel’s 51-day attack on Gaza in July and August last year. Electricity and cooking gas are scarce throughout the Gaza Strip.

The situation has been particularly difficult in recent weeks. Gaza’s power plant was shut down on December 28, its fuel reserves exhausted due to lack of funds. Um Atiya only has six hours of electricity a day.

Residents of the Gaza City neighbourhood al-Tuffah suffered a rude awakening at 2am on February 16 when Israeli warplanes targeted what the army said was a Hamas training site.

The shelling left six people injured, including members of two civil defence rescue teams. Civil defence said a firetruck and an ambulance were hit by Israeli missiles as the crew responded to earlier strikes.

Israeli sources said the attacks came in response to rocket fire from Gaza into nearby Israeli towns. The crude rockets landed in open fields; no casualties were reported.

The sense of joy was palpable in the streets of Gaza on October 18 as hundreds of Palestinian prisoners jailed by Israel returned home. It was a remarkable day in the life of the territory’s 1.6 million Palestinians.

During the past five years Israel has levied a heavy price on Gaza's civilian population for the capture of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit by Palestinian resistance fighters. It has been extracted with Israel’s warplanes, tanks, bulldozers and relentless siege.

Mothers and wives of Palestinian prisoners quickly gathered outside the office of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Gaza after a prisoner swap deal was announced on October 11 between Israel and Hamas.

These women have not seen their loved ones, imprisoned by Israel, for five years.

For the past five years, the families of 950 Palestinian prisoners from Gaza have been protesting weekly outside the ICRC’s headquarters, demanding their right to visit their sons, husbands and relatives inside the Israeli jails, a right denied to them by Israel.

As news was released of Israel's attack on the Freedom Flotilla and rising casualties among the passengers, the mood at Gaza's modest seaport grew sombre. Hundreds of civilians including governmental and non-governmental representatives, activists and ordinary Palestinians were waiting anxiously to welcome those on board the flotilla. All were shocked when news of the naval attack was first reported and silence overwhelmed the gathering.

It was not a chemical plant, nor a nuclear facility, nor a manufacturer of weapons of mass destruction. But almost all the rubble of the entirely destroyed factory was covered in white, with white chunks everywhere.

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