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Last Updated: Friday, 1 September 2006, 00:56 GMT 01:56 UK
Palestinian despair as donors meet
By Alan Johnston
BBC News, West Bank

Palestinian worker demands a job outside the Palestinian parliament on Tuesday
Despondency for the jobless as the Palestinian economy wastes
Diplomats and aid donors are gathering in the cool and the calm of a conference centre in Stockholm to consider the humanitarian crisis in the Palestinian Territories.

And a world away, in the heat and the clamour of Gaza's alleyways, Imad Marzouk is living that crisis.

The stumps that are all that remain of his legs are still heavily bandaged.

He remembers doing ordinary things on an ordinary evening. He had just propped his bike up against a wall on a street in Gaza City, and started to chat on his mobile phone.

All our dreams are cancelled - everything's cancelled - our priorities are feeding ourselves and just living
Government worker Nidha Younis
Ramallah, West Bank

But then out of nowhere came an explosion - and horror, and agony.

An Israeli rocket had torn both his legs off.

Sitting in his wheelchair after several operations he said: "I'm looking at myself. I'm looking at my legs, and at what I've become. I didn't have any weapon to go and shoot at Israelis. I never did anything."

It seems that the rocket was meant for a nearby group of militants.

Sustained attack

The humanitarian consequences of the intensified conflict will be high on the Stockholm conference's agenda.

Since late June the Israelis have put Gaza under sustained and at times intense military pressure.

There have been more than 270 air strikes, numerous ground raids and many days of incessant artillery fire.

A Palestinian man looks out of a building in Gaza City pockmarked by bullets and missiles
War has left its imprint everywhere

The United Nations says that $30m worth of damage has been done in this poverty stricken place.

The Israelis are trying to counter the militants who fire crudely made rockets from Gaza randomly into Israeli towns and villages. And the army is also trying to find and free an Israeli soldier captured in late June.

The Hamas government has suggested truce talks, and has proposed swapping the soldier for some of the thousands of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails.

But there has been no deal so far, and the killing goes on.

The casualty figures show how very one-sided the recent conflict has been.

More than 200 Palestinians have died - including many civilians - and hundreds more have been injured. One Israeli soldier has been killed - shot accidentally by his own side. Eleven Israeli civilians have been wounded in rocket fire from Gaza.

Darkness

In the course of the campaign thousands of people have fled their homes to escape Israeli artillery shells or advancing tanks.

But even for those unscathed by the violence, Gaza has become a darker place.

The Israelis bombed its only power plant, and now there is as little as six hours of electricity a day.

On many nights the alleyways of the refugee camps are lost in complete darkness. Behind the doors of crowded homes, life goes on by candlelight.

And on top of the stifling summer heat, Gazans are enduring serious water supply problems.

'Yoke of anarchy'

But even the Hamas government spokesman, Ghazi Hamad, has conceded that not all Gaza's problems can be blamed on the Israelis.

In a recent article he seemed to despair at the very poor law-and-order situation.

There are numerous militia groups and powerful clans that operate beyond the control of the weak security forces.

"Gaza is suffering under the yoke of anarchy and the swords of thugs," wrote Mr Hamad.

"We're used to blaming our mistakes on others. [But] what is the relationship between the chaos, anarchy, lawlessness, indiscriminate murders, theft of land, family rivalries... and the occupation?" he asked.

'Strangled'

Meanwhile, the Palestinian economy is being brought to its knees.

Business activity of all kinds is continually hampered by the growing number of checkpoints and barriers and controls across the occupied territories.

Rubbish piles up in Gaza City after municipal workers went on strike
Rubbish mounts after municipal workers go on strike

Israelis say they are securing themselves against attack - but Palestinians are convinced that they are being deliberately strangled.

On top of this, Israel, the European Union and America are preventing all funds reaching the Hamas government because it refuses to renounce violence and accept Israel's right to exist.

The administration is so broke that it has been able to pay its workers almost nothing for six months. The entire civil service - which normally supports a quarter of the population - is being forced into poverty.

Like many government workers in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Nidha Younis is eating through the last of her savings. She is fending off a landlord who is demanding rent that she cannot pay, and all the time she slides deeper into debt.

"All our dreams are cancelled," she said. "Everything's cancelled. Our priorities are feeding ourselves and just living."

The United Nations puts the poverty rate in Gaza at close to 80%. And the spokeswoman for the UN agency monitoring humanitarian affairs, OCHA, had this message for the donors at the Stockholm conference.

"What we've seen in the last year is a pattern of serious decline. Something must be done to avert a real, real disaster."


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