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Wednesday, 26 June, 2002, 18:48 GMT 19:48 UK
Living under the gun in Ramallah
Yasser Arafat's headquarters
Under guard: Yasser Arafat's headquarters

Rita Giacaman comes to the phone, a little out of breath.

"The curfew is going to be lifted in 10 minutes," she says excitedly.

veg sale
Vegetable sellers make the most of the gap in the curfew
For Dr Giacaman and other Palestinians of Ramallah, the Israelis are about to give them their first chance in three days to get outside their homes for four hours.

The word gets around by word of mouth - Dr Giacaman got a call from her neighbour.

In a city which is out of bounds to journalists - a "closed military zone" is how the Israelis describe it - word of mouth is often all they have.

Foreign residents are luckier, they might even get a call from their consulate.

Whatever method the residents of Ramallah use, the lifting of the curfew is their chance to stock up on supplies, for pregnant mothers to go to hospital, for schoolchildren to play with their friends - all the things that are taken for granted elsewhere.

"How would the British react if they were placed under curfew?" asks Dr Giacaman, a lecturer in community and public health studies at Bir Zeit University near Ramallah.

"It's degrading and undignified."

Checkpoint
A woman is quizzed on her way to hospital
And in her view, the curfews are also counter-productive, storing up further resentment among Palestinians who cannot earn the money to buy supplies - even when the curfew has been lifted for a few precious hours.

Rumours that the curfew has been lifted fly around the city like wildfire and the results can be as dangerous.

On Tuesday, some Palestinians, believing that it had been lifted, ventured out and were fired on by Israeli troops.

Suicide attack

The Israelis have been holding seven of the eight Palestinian centres in the West Bank, including Ramallah where Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has his headquarters.

The incursions came in response to last week's Jerusalem suicide bomb attack which killed 19 Israelis - the latest in a long line of such attacks, launched from the West Bank by Palestinian militants.

Ambulance
Street life: An ambulance passes a troop carrier
Dr Mohamad Askasi is one of the few that are allowed to break the curfew.

He runs a food and medical supply service for the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees.

He and his team of 20, on foot and in two ambulances, can reach about 90 homes a day.

But even they are prevented from visiting outlying villages, which are cut off by roadblocks.

The area around Mr Arafat's headquarters is also out of bounds.

"The situation is very difficult," he said. "People are not allowed to go to hospital. They have a chronic disease, but they cannot get the medication they need."

Mothers are trying to keep children fed without milk and water.


The only solution for us and the Israelis is to give freedom and rights to the Palestinians

Dr Mohamad Askasi
The aid workers would like to see more people, but roadblocks, sometimes lasting up to half an hour, prevent them.

The union began foot patrols when the Israelis refused to let its workers carry food in their ambulances.

Bread and milk are in shortest supply. Some mothers resort to giving their children tea instead of milk, further sapping their iron intake and risking malnutrition.

His view is that the curfew - as well as ruining innocent Palestinians' chances of leading their lives - does nothing to prevent the suicide bombers.

"It is useless because the Israelis cannot stop people entering the borders. I don't know what they are thinking.

"We want peace, but the only solution for us and the Israelis is to give freedom and rights to the Palestinians."


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25 Jun 02 | Middle East
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