Cut off from world, and virus, Gaza prepares for Eid like nowhere else
By Nidal al-Mughrabi GAZA (Reuters) - Gazans are thronging beaches and crowding markets filled with holiday sweets and clothes as they prepare to celebrate Eid al-Adha largely free of the coronavirus restrictions affecting the Muslim festival elsewhere.
By Nidal al-Mughrabi
GAZA (Reuters) - Gazans are thronging beaches and crowding markets filled with holiday sweets and clothes as they prepare to celebrate Eid al-Adha largely free of the coronavirus restrictions affecting the Muslim festival elsewhere.
The 360 sq. km. coastal strip has had little access to the outside world for years due to an Israeli-led blockade which many Palestinians say is like living in permanent lockdown.
No cases have been recorded in the towns and refugee camps where its two million Palestinian population live, although 75 infections and one death have occurred in quarantine centres.
Arrivals spend 21 days in the centres on orders from Hamas, the armed Islamist group that has controlled Gaza for over a decade, but other coronavirus measures, such as restaurant and school closures and bans on large gatherings, have been lifted.
The result is that Gazans are preparing much as normal ahead of Eid, which begins at the end of July, with few people wearing masks in shopping centers that are packed after sunset.
The scenes contrast with restrictions elsewhere: Saudi Arabia has capped the number of its own citizens attending the upcoming haj pilgrimage; Oman has implemented a nightly curfew and Iraq has said its curfew will last through the holiday. [nL5N2ES2UO] [nL5N2EN6F5]
"God protected us from the virus," said Malkeya Abdallah, 62, as she relaxed on the beach near Gaza City.
But medics are alarmed by the risks inherent in Gaza's potentially disastrous combination of poverty, densely packed refugee camps and limited hospital capacity.
"We see total relaxation within the communities, the malls, the supermarkets, wedding halls, the mosques, everything is working as normal with no precautionary measures whatsoever," said Abdelnaser Soboh, director of the World Health Organization's Gaza office, calling for more precautions.
"The virus will eventually get (in) ... you can't isolate Gaza from the world forever."
On Saturday, Hamas's health and interior ministries staged a COVID-19 drill, cordoning off a busy area of Gaza City and halting traffic between towns.
The economic impact of the coronavirus is already being felt.
Eighty percent of Gazans, who have seen three wars in a dozen years, already rely on humanitarian aid. Palestinians blame the closures, which neighbouring Israel and Egypt say are needed due to security concerns.
The World Bank expects poverty in Gaza to increase from 53% to 64% due to decreased consumer demand led by potential cuts in public sector wages across the Palestinian Territories, and the potential for losses from the Strip's earlier shutdown.
Meat merchants say far fewer Palestinians buying sheep to slaughter during the four-day Eid festival.
"We would have sold 500-700 sheep by this time last year... so far, we have only sold 30-35," said Mahmoud Abu Warda, a livestock breeder.
(Writing by Rami Ayyub and Stephen Farrell; editing by Philippa Fletcher)
This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.
By Robin Emmott and John Irish | BRUSSELS/PARIS BRUSSELS/PARIS France and Germany will agree to a U.S. plan for NATO to take a bigger role in the fight against Islamic militants at a meeting with President Donald Trump on Thursday, but insist the move is purely symbolic, four senior European diplomats said.The decision to allow the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to join the coalition against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq follows weeks of pressure on the two allies, who are wary of NATO confronting Russia in Syria and of alienating Arab countries who see NATO as pushing a pro-Western agenda."NATO as an institution will join the coalition," said one senior diplomat involved in the discussions. "The question is whether this just a symbolic gesture to the United States
BEIJING Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday called for greater efforts to make the country's navy a world class one, strong in operations on, below and above the surface, as it steps up its ability to project power far from its shores.China's navy has taken an increasingly prominent role in recent months, with a rising star admiral taking command, its first aircraft carrier sailing around self-ruled Taiwan and a new aircraft carrier launched last month.With President Donald Trump promising a US shipbuilding spree and unnerving Beijing with his unpredictable approach on hot button issues including Taiwan and the South and East China Seas, China is pushing to narrow the gap with the U.S. Navy.Inspecting navy headquarters, Xi said the navy should "aim for the top ranks in the world", the Defence Ministry said in a statement about his visit."Building a strong and modern navy is an important mark of a top ranking global military," the ministry paraphrased Xi as saying.