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Palestinians in Gaza observe joyless Ramadan under shadow of bloodshed



People shop at a market ahead of Ramadan in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah on March 10, 2024. [Photo/Xinhua]

People shop at a market ahead of Ramadan in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah on March 10, 2024. [Photo/Xinhua]

GAZA - Amina Al-Ashi, a mother of six in the Gaza Strip, has never been as scared of a holiday as she is ahead of this Ramadan.

For millions of starving Palestinians like her, the raging Israel-Hamas conflict and bloodshed seem to render any thought of festivity utterly absurd.

"Last year, on days like these, I was busy hanging Ramadan decorations and preparing for suhoor (pre-dawn meal) and breakfast for several days," the 44-year-old woman recalled.

Ramadan is scheduled to begin on Monday for Palestinians, but Al-Ashi was not even in the mood to welcome the Muslim holy month.

"My children and I starve most of the time due to lack of food. I do not know how to encourage them to fast when they only find the slightest amount of food," she lamented, referring to practices of Islamic traditions during the holy month.

The nightmare started months ago when heavy Israeli airstrikes on Gaza City took away her job and all her property and shattered her peaceful life.

Before Oct 7, 2023, Al-Ashi had lived in her own house in the al-Rimal neighborhood in central Gaza City and worked in a women's clothing store.

But after the conflict broke out on that day, she was forced to flee again and again, first to the Nuseirat camp in central Gaza, then to the city of Khan Younis, and finally to the southernmost city of Rafah, where she lived in a makeshift tent near the border with Egypt.

Recalling all the joyful moments in Ramadan in previous years, the thin woman said she "began to wish that it would not come this year as there is no food or any other aspect of celebration".

"Even the canned goods that we are supposed to receive as aid are stolen and sold in local markets at exorbitant prices, which I cannot afford," she said.

Social order is collapsing in Gaza as millions of desperate Palestinians struggle to make a living amid heavy Israeli strikes, paralysis in public services, and overwhelming humanitarian needs.

Al-Ashi stressed that she does not intend to celebrate Ramadan or even encourage her children to fast for fear that their health will deteriorate if they become malnourished and dehydrated.

In addition, she does not want to see any decorations related to Ramadan anywhere in Gaza, believing that "everyone here is dying without any mercy".

Not far, Emtethal Abu Ramadan has lived with her family in a tent set up by herself shortly after the conflict began. In recent days, she has been preparing Ramadan decorations from scratch. Despite the difficult circumstances, the woman wants to show the grit of Palestinians.

"For more than five months, we have been living in an atmosphere of fear due to the continuous Israeli bombing and destruction of our city ... but we (the Palestinians) want to prove to the world that we are a people who love life even under these tragic circumstances," the 33-year-old mother of three told Xinhua.

The young woman made Ramadan lanterns from cardboard while putting small light bulbs inside them to create a joyful atmosphere for her children in the tent.

"Even on such days, we must remember that life is worth fighting for ... Despite all the pain and sadness that we are experiencing, we can rebuild our homes and city as long as we remain alive," the woman said.

In Rafah, hundreds of street vendors touted goods on small stands, trying to make some money before the holy month.

But Abdul Qader Al-Buhaisi felt the pinch of skyrocketing goods prices in the market, saying he would barely be able to buy small amounts of food to prepare even a breakfast for his family on the first day of Ramadan.

"I did not find any type of meat except canned meat, which is sold at prices unaffordable for me," the 45-year-old father of five complained.

"Everyone is a loser ... No one, regardless of rich or poor, can bear the heavy losses of this war," he said, adding, "Warmongers are killing the desire for life within us."

Israel has waged a large-scale military campaign in Gaza since Oct 7 last year, right after Gaza-ruling Hamas carried out a surprise military attack on the Israeli towns adjacent to the strip, killing approximately 1,200 people and capturing more than 200 others.

So far, 31,045 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed and 72,654 others injured, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry.

The Palestinians, as well as all Muslims around the world, are preparing to observe Ramadan amid hopes that Hamas and Israel will reach a humanitarian truce to restore calm to Gaza.