Gaza shelves stocked, but hope in short supply

Thu Jun 30, 2011 11:27am GMT

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA (Reuters) - If pro-Palestinian activists unexpectedly manage to slip past Israel's naval blockade on the Gaza Strip in the coming days, they might be surprised by what they see in the Hamas-controlled enclave when they disembark.

Roads are being paved, houses are being built, new cars have taken to the busy streets and shops are full of myriad products. Even the longtime scourge of unemployment is easing marginally, boosting living standards for a lucky few.

"I have been without work since 2007. Now I can pick and choose," said construction worker Karem Hassoun. "Life has finally smiled on me and my seven children."

But look beyond the building sites and the handfuls of luxury vehicles and the grim reality of everyday life in Gaza is evident, with over 70 percent of people still below the poverty line following years of isolation, conflict and deprivation.

For the second consecutive year, international activists are assembling in the Mediterranean on a motley assortment of boats and plan to challenge Israel's maritime closure of the coastal enclave, which they say is illegal and inhumane.

A year ago, nine Turkish activists were killed when Israeli forces boarded a cruise liner heading for Gaza as the flagship of an earlier flotilla. Israel says its men acted in self-defence and argues its blockade is to stop arms from reaching the Islamist group Hamas, which refuses to renounce violence.

But, faced by a global outcry over those deaths, the Jewish state has eased its land blockade, boosting Gaza's under-developed economy and enabling Israel to argue that the sea protest is driven by politics rather than humanitarian concerns.

Gazans see things differently. While they agree that there are many more goods on the shelves, the one thing that remains in short supply is hope for the future in a place where two in three of its 1.5 million people are from families of refugees.   Continued...

<p>Palestinian children attend a summer camp, organized by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) at the beach in Gaza City June 27, 2011. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa</p>
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