Thousand flock for food aid in Gaza

Solfa Hamed’s 11 children are hungry and she is ready to fight anyone standing between her and the aid packages for the growing number of needy Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

“I will not leave without my bag. My 11 children are waiting at home for something to eat and my pantry is empty,” shouts the 47-year-old, muscling her way past police officers trying to contain the crowd.

Hundreds of people have flocked to this impoverished neighbourhood of the southern Gaza city of Khan Yunis in the hope of securing a ration of almost 10kg of basic food goods, including rice, dry beans and oil.

Palestinian police were deployed in force and a special unit from the Interior Ministry was also dispatched to prevent the distribution from turning violent, such is the attraction of a ration in the starved territory.

“We have 13 000 rations of food and the needs of these people are huge. There is a lot of humanitarian aid blocked at the borders and Gaza’s stockpiles are dwindling,” says Naid, one of the distribution’s organisers.

The distribution, part of huge programme aimed at alleviating the hardships of the overcrowded territory’s population, is organised by the London-based organisation Islamic Relief.

Clutching her trophy after the stampede, panting in the shade of a tree, Solfa says she cannot remember worse shortages in the Gaza Strip.

Years of frequent Israeli closures on the militant stronghold have crippled the economy, and aid by the territory’s Western financiers was frozen after the Islamist Hamas movement rose to power through elections six months ago.

The plight of the Gaza Strip’s fast-growing population of 1,4-million only deteriorated when militants captured an Israeli soldier, resulting in air strikes and lockdown that led to fuel, electricity and water shortages.

Gazans are now braced for further misery as Israeli armour thrust deep into the territory on Thursday and looked set to reoccupy entire areas in a bid to create a buffer zone aimed at preventing rocket attacks.

“Even my smallest children have become used to living with the noise of bombs and gunfire.
But I’m scared, could anything be worse than this?” she asks.

Standing next to her, Hossam Abed concurs. Since he lost his job in Israeli industry, he has been eking a living out of odd jobs to feed his 14 children.

“When Israel and the United States decide to make life impossible for us, we lose all hope of ever getting a better life. The youth is now ready to die fighting the enemy,” he says.

“In my family, for example, nobody has a job. Those who actually have contracts in Israel cannot even leave Gaza,” adds Soraya Aid Soobah, a 55-year-old woman with a limp.

For years, she has had to rely on charity networks to survive and is a regular at food distribution points organised by the United Nations and Islamic organisations in Khan Yunis.

“Hamas used to look after the people before rising to power. If they can no longer do as much for us, it’s because they are cornered, just like we are,” she explains.

The security men in charge of the distribution are trying to calm a crowd of people, some of whom are ready to risk their lives for a few kilograms of food.

“The is terrible. Everybody, including government employees, need help,” the organisers say.

As he tries to elbow his way through the swarm of residents scrambling for one more ration, Abdel Rahim Hossam stresses that this is the first time he has to resort to humanitarian assistance and confesses a sense of shame.

For four months now, this police officer has not received his salary from the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority.

“I always thought that there were poorer people than I and I never thought I would be forced to accept charity, but here I am,” says the mortified Hossam as he loads the food packages on a donkey cart.

Meanwhile, Solfa considers different ways of getting her bounty safely back to her home in Mawasi, a small community on the outskirts of Khan Yunis.

“The people of Gaza are becoming crazy. Nobody respects anything anymore and there is a lot of theft,” she says.—AFP

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