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Sunday, 15 September, 2002, 12:11 GMT 13:11 UK
Gaza's hopes for the future
Gaza's landscape is dominated by the conflict

The courtyard of the Al-Azhar University in Gaza City is a calm place, although Gaza's ever-present car horns can be heard even here.

Despite the airy campus, there's a sense of claustrophobia.

The students yearn to break out of their confinement; to live freely in a future Palestinian state.

Among the students is 18-year-old Zahia Al-Zaeem. She says she wants Palestine as it was before the creation of Israel. She accepts that's unlikely.

But she won't compromise on the removal of Jewish settlements from what international law says is Palestinian land.

A Palestinian woman near the Gush Qatif settlement
Independence remains a dream in Gaza
"The Gaza Strip, you know, is a small box. The Gaza Strip and the West Bank which are cut by settlements everywhere, settlements here, settlements here," she exclaims, waving her arms. "It's not just!"

Inside the university buildings, it's exam time.

The students here - like other Palestinians - feel that currently too much of the world's attention is focused on Iraq. They feel their questions remain unanswered.

Gaza's main fruit and vegetable market is busy as always, although the economy itself is struggling.

For stallholders and shoppers alike, independence remains a dream which they say can only be realised with massive international assistance.

While they hope for future statehood, many people of Gaza want peace in the present: peace that will allow them to work, to get the economy moving, to feed their families.

Livelihood's destroyed

In the north of the Gaza Strip, near the Jewish settlement of Dugit, fertile farmland has become desert. Tayshir Shaheen used to farm here.

This is the first time he's been back since April last year, when, he says, his fruit trees were uprooted by Israeli forces.

The Israeli Army clears land where they say crops provide cover for Palestinian fighters. Uiseer wants independence just so he can return to his land.

Palestinian farmer Uiseer Shaheen
Farmer Tayshir Shaheen wants to get back to his land
"We Palestinians would love to live in peace," he tells me, as we look out over the land where once his crops grew. "But we can't with tanks. For me to come back to my farm, Israeli tanks need to pull out of the area."

The Palestinian political class has been thrown into confusion by a stormy session of the Legislative Council. The entire cabinet resigned after deputies made it clear that ministers wouldn't survive a confidence vote.

The Palestinian political class shares the concerns of its people.

Dr Jihad Al-Wazir, deputy minister for international planning and cooperation, laments the fact that increased diplomatic support for the Palestinian cause hasn't been translated into action.

Leadership change

"The irony of the situation is that internationally the support for the Palestinian State has increased," he explains. "Even President Bush has called for a Palestinian state.

"But the sad fact on the ground is that the Israelis have totally destroyed the origins and the basis which would lead to a Palestinian state."

Yasser Arafat
The Israelis say they can't work with Yasser Arafat
The Israelis say they accept the idea of a Palestinian state, but can't work with Yasser Arafat.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Sofer says that talks can only restart with someone else in charge.

"The question really is how we return to negotiations and implement the reforms in the Palestinian Authority which will bring about a new leadership, perhaps more pragmatic, which will take negotiation over violence as the order of the day."

Many in Gaza counter that they feel the same way about the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon.

Independence won't solve the Palestinians problems overnight, but they believe that when it comes, they can at least begin to move in the right direction.

The BBC's James Rodgers in Gaza
"Calls for international help for the Palestinians get a sympathetic hearing at one university in Gaza City"

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See also:

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