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Gazans forced to cancel habits of Muslim feast

(Xinhua)

10:41, August 29, 2011

GAZA, Aug. 28 (Xinhua) -- Various types of Turkish delights and chocolates piled up on stalls in a popular market in Gaza City, but only few people seemed to be interested.

This was two days ahead of a Muslim's feast that marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. Buying sweets to serve visiting relatives is a regular habit to mark this occasion.

The scenes of frustration have been visible on the face of the 40-year-old Abu Rashid Abu Assi, as he kept promoting his sweets and almost begging people to buy from him.

"The market is full of people, but not all of them are buying," said Abu Assi. "The market is very stagnant; people are just asking about the prices without buying."

Israel has relaxed its four-year-old economic blockade on Gaza, and consumer goods and commodities needed for this occasion, especially food and clothes, are widely available in reasonable prices, but people still do not buy enough, merchants say.

"It doesn't look that it is going to be a promising season," said Mohammed Al-Hweti, an importer and owner of a series of clothes stores.

For the families, the feast falls this year with another occasion that requires more spending, school year.

Mohammed Hamad, 35, was walking in the market with three of his children. "I asked my children to choose between buying stuff and clothes for the school or buying colorful clothes for the Eid ( feast)," said the government employee who barely gets nearly 600 U. S. dollars.

Darwish Al-Manssi, another employee, said he has not been getting his salary regularly for the past four months. "This has accumulated debts on me," he said.

The West Bank-based Palestinian National Authority (PNA), paying for 74,000 employees in Gaza, and Hamas, which has taken over Gaza by force in 2007 and set up a government with nearly 40, 000 public servants, suffer from a severe financial crisis that prevented the two administrations from paying their employees regularly.

According to international reports, about 75 percent of Gaza's 1.5 million people are suffering different levels of unemployment.

Adham Amer, a Hamas employee, said he used to buy two kinds of sweets -- one cheap popular and another imported kind that is more Western and expensive. "This year, I only bought the first kind," he noted, citing the late salary.

The flat market in Gaza does not prevent new consumption patterns for the residents, as the coastal enclave witnesses the opening of two small shopping centers that residents here exaggeratingly call malls.

The "malls" came after four years of economic sanctions, and they demonstrate personal adventures rather than a systematic economical growth.

But in the meantime, Israel kept restrictions on delivering coins to Gaza, and this has made it very difficult for people to change money into coins. This has been an obstacle between the consumer and the seller, said Mohammed Al-Taba', an economist.

The feast also comes a few days after a wave of cross-border violence in which Israel killed at least 25 Palestinians.

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