Gaza City

One week after an August 26 ceasefire halting an Israeli military offensive against the Gaza Strip, tens of thousands of Palestinians remained displaced, sheltered in United Nations schools and other facilities. On September 1, 58,071 people still lived in 36 UN schools across the coastal enclave, according to Chris Gunness, spokesperson for UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees. Israel’s 51-day onslaught damaged 15,670 houses, including 2276 completely destroyed, and up to 500,000 Palestinians were displaced.
Sit-ins to support Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails have been held every week since 1995 in the courtyard of the International Committee of the Red Cross’s Gaza office. Recently, they have been followed by rallies outside the office for Ibrahim Bitar, a sick detainee in Israel’s Nafha prison. Ibrahim’s brother Mamdouh said: “We’ve garnered internal support for my brother, and created this popular campaign. It started within our family. It’s a symbol of all the sick detainees.”
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.
A confusing feeling passed through me after hearing about the exchange of 1027 Palestinian detainees for the only Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, who was held captive by the Palestinian resistance fighters. I don’t know whether to feel happy or sad. Gazing at the faces of the prisoners’ families in the solidarity tent in Gaza City on October 18, I see a look that I have never seen before: eyes glittering with hope. Thinking about those women whose relatives are most likely to be released and seeing their big smiles makes me happy.
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.
On August 18, as I woke up to the news of an attack that took place in Israel's southernmost city of Eilat in which seven Israelis died, the first thing that came to my mind was: “Who the hell did  it?” As my brother excitedly narrated to me the details of the oddly mysterious incident, I was foolish enough to wish the assailants weren’t from Gaza. I naively said to my brother: “Let’s hope they don’t turn out to be Gazans.”
“During the first years of the siege, we could still manage, but nowadays we have no alternatives,” says Dr Hassan Khalaf, deputy health minister in Gaza. “It is a major crisis: many health services have stopped, and I’m afraid this will spiral out of control, because Gaza doesn’t have the essential medicines and supplies  needed.” Cancer, kidney, heart and organ transplant patients, as well as patients needing routine surgeries, including eye and dental surgery, have been suffering for the past five years under the Israeli-led, internationally-backed siege of the Gaza Strip.
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