at the beaches, piles of garbage mar Gaza's summer
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[June 30, 2014] By
GAZA (Reuters) - When
Palestinians in the Gaza Strip seek some relief from the
grind of life in an enclave plagued by conflict and
hardship, they usually need to look no further than
their sandy beaches.
But this summer access to the cooling waters of the Mediterranean is
gradually being closed off to Gaza's 1.8 million residents, due to
pollution stemming from the fuel shortages that have halted work at
sewage treatment facilities.
The blighted shoreline adds to the grind of Gazan life so far
unrelieved by the reconciliation pact which the dominant Islamist
group Hamas signed with Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas.
One Hamas official mooted retaking charge of the territory if the
Abbas-led new government did not wade in with remedies.
Baha al-Agha of the Gaza Environment Quality Authority said about
100,000 cubic metres of untreated waste water are being pumped into
the sea daily.
"Swimming is prohibited" signs have gone up at several beaches. But
at one of Gaza's most popular beaches, dozens of people, including
children, splashed in the water over the weekend despite the posted
"Things are getting worse day by day in the absence of real and
quick solutions," Agha told Reuters. He called on the Palestinian
unity government formed earlier this month to act immediately,
"before Gaza beaches are declared a disaster area".
Egypt's closure of most of the estimated 1,200 cross-border
smuggling tunnels run by Hamas has virtually stopped cheap Egyptian
fuel coming into Gaza.
Egypt's military-backed government fear the tunnels are used to take
weapons into the Sinai Peninsula, and accuses Hamas of backing the
Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas denies it helps militants in
Israel has its own blockade on Gaza, allowing in fuel and restricted
imports since Hamas took control in 2007. But the Israeli fuel costs
twice as much as Egyptian imports.
GARBAGE PILING UP
Gazan residents said they had little to celebrate at the start on
Sunday of the Muslim month of Ramadan - traditionally a time for
worship but also for family feasts in the evening at the end of a
daily daytime fast.
Garbage has been piling up on the streets, with some 75 percent of
sanitation trucks idled by the Gaza municipality's inability to pay
high fuel prices.
"Tunnels are closed, crossings are closed, there is no sea port ...
and now they are telling us the beaches are closed? Wouldn't it be
easier if they just let us die in peace?" asked Ali Abu Hassan, a
46-year-old taxi driver.
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Driving along Gaza's coastal road, the smell of sewage is sharp and
waves hitting the beach are yellowish and brown.
Many in the Gaza Strip are also feeling the pinch of a salary
dispute that could test the resilience of the new Hamas-Abbas unity
government. Some 40,000 public servants hired by Hamas since it
seized the Gaza Strip seven years ago from forces loyal to Abbas
have not been paid in full for months due to a cash crunch caused by
Egypt's tunnel crackdown.
Hopes of receiving wages quickly under the unity government were
dashed when the new administration said it must first vet the
employees before paying them - a process that could take months.
Hamas-hired workers, who held a one-day strike on Thursday, are
particularly resentful that Abbas's Palestinian Authority has been
paying its Gaza-based staff regularly, even though they have not
reported to work since 2007.
Moussa Abu Marzouk, a senior Hamas official, accused the Palestinian
Authority of keeping order only in the Israeli-occupied West Bank,
where Abbas's secular Fatah party has sway.
"I'm afraid that Hamas may be invited to return so as to preserve
the security and the stability of the people of Gaza," he wrote on
Facebook. "Gaza is under the responsibility neither of the former
government nor of the unity government. Does this mean they (PA)
have torn up the reconciliation agreement?"
(Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Raissa Kasolowsky)
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