Gaza youth revisit scars of war

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Updated 14 September 2017
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Gaza youth revisit scars of war

WASHINGTON/GAZA CITY: “At bedtime, I am afraid to turn the lights off. I am not a coward, it is just that I worry that this bulb hanging from the ceiling is the last light that remains (shining) in my life.”
Soon after he penned these words, Moath Al-Hajj, a young artist from a Gaza refugee camp, passed away in his sleep.
After not hearing from him for two days, his friends broke down the door of his house, and found him huddled with his blanket in a place in which he lived alone for 11 years.
Al-Hajj lived in Nuseirat, one of Gaza’s most crowded refugee camps.
Raised in the UAE, he returned to Gaza to join the Islamic University, but remained there, experiencing three wars and a decade-long blockade.
Somehow, the young man maintained a semblance of hope, as expressed in his many drawings and emotive commentary.
Al-Hajj learned to live in his own world ever since he was young. The outside world to him seemed unpredictable and at times cruel.
When his mother passed away, he was only 1 year old. His father died of cancer in the UAE, so due to circumstances beyond his control, Al-Hajj lived alone.
Keeping him company were his friends in the neighborhood, but mostly his self-effacing yet profound artistic expressions.
“Smile, may the war feel shame,” was one of his cartoons. In it, a little girl with a flowery dress turns her back to the reader.
Al-Hajj’s art characters always had their eyes closed, as if they refuse to see the world around them and insist on imagining a better world inside their own thoughts.
After his body was thoroughly examined, doctors concluded that he died from a stroke.
His heart, heavy with untold personal and collective miseries, had just given in. And just like that, one of Gaza’s finest young men was buried in an ever-crowded graveyard.
Social media buzzed with statements of condolence, mostly by young Palestinians from Gaza devastated to hear that Al-Hajj’s last light had been extinguished, and that the young man’s life had ended while the siege and state of war remain.
In that same week, Palestinians commemorated the three-year anniversary of the end of Israel’s devastating war against Gaza.
The war had killed more than 2,200 Palestinians, the vast majority of them civilians, and 71 Israelis, most of them soldiers.
The war left Gaza in ruins, as more than 17,000 homes were completely destroyed and thousands of other structures — including hospitals, schools and factories — were destroyed or severely damaged.
The war shattered whatever semblance of economy Gaza had had. Today, 80 percent of Palestinians there live below the poverty line, most of whom depend on humanitarian aid.
A whole generation of Palestinians in Gaza have grown up knowing nothing but war and siege, and have never seen the world beyond its deadly borders.
Following are the voices of some of these young Gazans, who kindly shared their tragic personal stories, hoping that the world will heed their calls for freedom and justice.

Isra Migdad, an Islamic finance student
“After our house had been partially damaged during the 2014 Israeli war, it took my family about a year and a half to rebuild it, due to the delay in construction material being allowed into Gaza and because of the prohibitive prices of such material, when it’s available.
“I lost my master’s degree scholarship in 2014 due to the closure and my family’s difficult financial situation after the war.
“I’ve spent the last three years applying for scholarships, only to learn that many universities in Europe know nothing, or very little, about the Israeli siege on Gaza and the continued closure of the borders.
“I attained another scholarship, only to lose it again since I didn’t have enough time to complete my travel procedures and negotiate an exit from Gaza.
“I want a better life, but I also love Gaza. Yet the situation is becoming more difficult with each passing day.
“It’s hard to find a stable job, and even if one gets an opportunity elsewhere, it’s nearly impossible to get out.”

Ghada, 23, studied English literature, works as a translator
“Day by day, the situation in Gaza becomes more complicated and even worse than before. Since the last war to this day, nothing seems to get better. Nothing at all.
“During my work at the Palestinian Trade Center (Pal-Trade), which focuses on the Palestinian economy, every day I see people struggling in all economic sectors.
“The electricity crisis is destroying businesses everywhere. The agriculture sector is in ruins as farmers can’t export their products, and can’t even access the Palestinian market in the West Bank.
“Despite substantial donor pledges to support reconstruction following the 2014 conflict, the situation for Palestinians living in Gaza has never been worse.
“Moreover, people in Gaza are facing a dire shortage of drinkable water and an adequate and equitable sanitation system.
“Even the sea has become polluted because of the sewage that’s dumped daily. There’s little hope on the horizon for better conditions.”

Banias Harb, a teacher
“The unprecedented closure and blockade imposed on Gaza have created a feeling of helplessness.
“The most frustrating problem that youths have been suffering from is the closure of the Rafah border crossing.
“Gaza’s youths constitute about a third of the Palestinian population, yet less than 10 percent of all youths have been able to see what’s beyond Gaza. We feel abandoned, alone.”

Kholod Zughbor, has a degree in English literature from Al-Azhar University, Gaza
“The siege on Gaza has been in place since 2006. The situation has been terrible here, even before the wars started. Unemployment among Gaza’s youth is estimated at 60 percent.
“I’ve witnessed three wars. I saw life gradually worsen, especially after the last one. Three years after the 2014 war, the situation is getting harder and more miserable.
“Gaza is still far from full recovery, and what has been built is only a drop in the ocean of destruction.”

Sondos, a social worker, has a degree in English literature
“As a social worker, I’ve visited more than 350 families impacted by the war and its aftermath.
“They’re burdened by deep psychological scars, and are constantly overshadowed by the feeling of impending catastrophe.
“In every house I’ve visited there’s a heartbreaking story of poverty, unemployment, fear of the future, fear of another Israeli war.
“Without outside pressure on Israel, Gazans will continue to relive this nightmare in their open-air prison.
“They can’t reconstruct their demolished homes, import their basic needs, or have access to electricity and clean water on a regular basis.
“But Gaza will continue to hang on to life and won’t fall into despair. Our youths will continue to pursue higher education and will labor to achieve their goals, no matter the odds.
“They’ll continue to use their imagination to overcome all hurdles, as we’ve done for many years. Courage and determination are our most prized qualities.”

— Yousef Aljamal, a writer and Ph.D. student from Gaza, contributed to this feature.


Russia says drone attacks on its Syria base have increased

Updated 18 August 2018
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Russia says drone attacks on its Syria base have increased

  • Idlib has become the main base for President Bashar Assad’s foes, who moved there after being forced out from other areas across Syria
  • A recent UN report warned that Daesh, which once boasted of commanding a caliphate stretching across northern Syria and Iraq

DAMASCUS: Russian air defense assets in Syria have downed 45 drones targeting their main base in the country, its military said, after an attack by Daesh on a Syrian army base a day earlier killed seven troops.

The Russian Defense Ministry spokesman, Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, said that five of them were shot down in the last three days near the Hemeimeem air base. The base in the province of Latakia serves as the main hub for Russian operations in Syria.

Konashenkov said that while the drones appear primitive, they use sophisticated technologies and have a range of up to 100 km. 

He charged that the militants would not have been able to assemble the drones without outside help, but didn’t specify who might have assisted them.

The Russian general noted that the number of drone attacks have increased recently, adding that all of them were launched by militants based in the northern province of Idlib.

Idlib has become the main base for President Bashar Assad’s foes, who moved there after being forced out from other areas across Syria as part of surrender deals often negotiated with the Russians on behalf of the Syrian regime. With Russia’s support, Assad’s forces have regained control over key cities, like Aleppo, Homs and Daraa, the southern city where the uprising against the government began in March 2011. 

The authorities also have restored control over key highways, allowing safe travel all the way form the Jordanian border in the south to the central province of Hama.

In Homs, regional Gov. Talal Barazi told international reporters during a trip organized by the Russian Defense Ministry that a key bridge on a highway linking the Homs and Hama provinces that was destroyed in 2012 has been restored.

Barazi said that later this year his administration plans to start restoring the old part of Homs that was ravaged by fierce fighting in 2014.

He said that about 650 fighters who had left the province and moved to Idlib had come back to Homs and agreed to lay down their arms.

Barazi said that the historic city of Palmyra, home to one of the Middle East’s most spectacular archaeological sites, could be open for tourist visits by next summer. 

Many of the city’s archaeological treasures were badly damaged by Daesh in 2015. Palmyra is a world heritage site protected by the UN’s cultural agency.

In Aleppo, Hazem Ajan, the director of the city’s industrial cluster, said that about 500 companies have resumed operations in the area since the government reclaimed control in 2016.

Meanwhile, in eastern Syria, at least seven soldiers were killed with Daesh attacked an army position near the city of Deir Ezzor, a monitoring group said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the attack on Wednesday near the Taim oil field was the militants’ closest approach to the Deir Ezzor air base since the government recaptured it from the group last year.

Mohammed Hassan, a media coordinator for the activist-run Deir Ezzor 24, said at least 12 soldiers and five IS militants were killed in the clashes.

A recent UN report warned that Daesh, which once boasted of commanding a caliphate stretching across northern Syria and Iraq, is adopting a guerrilla profile.

The group may still have up to 30,000 members distributed between Syria and Iraq, according to the UN report.

Also on Thursday, Assad and his wife Asma visited one of the tunnels once used by fighters outside Damascus to move vehicles, weapons, and fighters while they were under siege, the president’s office said. Regime forces have uncovered a network of tunnels underneath the Eastern Ghouta suburbs of the capital since they seized the area from opposition forces in a fierce campaign earlier this year.

The tunnel visited by the Assads was decorated with reliefs sculpted by a team of artists supervised by the government showing soldiers fighting and triumphing over their opponents.