Gazans pray in mosque rubble on first day of Ramadan

AFP || Shining BD

Published: 3/12/2024 7:34:05 AM

Dozens of Gazans offered prayers on Monday, the first day of Ramadan, in the middle of the ruins of a mosque hit by an Israeli air strike just days ago.

Standing in rows before a prayer leader with their hands folded, the Palestinian men were entering a fasting month unlike any they had experienced before.
Many of those not attending prayers were out in the streets looking for whatever food they could find for their families living in makeshift camps across the war-ravaged territory.
"I wish the planes would bomb me and I die," said Zaki Hussein Abu Mansur, once the proud owner of a house he had built for his family in Khan Yunis -- where Israeli forces are engaged in a sweeping ground operation against Hamas.
"It is better to die than live this life," the 63-year-old told AFP.
"Sometimes we see that the things that we need are in the market but we can't buy them."
Deprivation is normal in Gaza this Ramadan. Markets in Rafah are short on food items and few stores have qatayef, a dessert traditionally sold during Ramadan.
The bright lights and decorations that usually adorn streets during the fasting month are glaringly absent, though some stalls display Ramadan lanterns.
"We can't even afford vegetables, let alone fruit," said Maisa al-Balbissi, a 39-year-old displaced from northern Gaza and now sheltering in Rafah.
"Everything is too expensive. My children and I are unable to buy anything. Prices of even the simplest items have skyrocketed," the mother-of-two told AFP by her tent.
 - 'Don't feel joy '-
Palestinians are observing Ramadan this year amid the relentless military campaign launched by Israel in response to Hamas's unprecedented October 7 attack, which resulted in the deaths of around 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.
Israel's retaliatory offensive, aimed at eliminating Hamas, has killed at least 31,112 people, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory's health ministry.
For those forced to stay in overcrowded camps for the displaced, the bleak reality of food shortages and unhygienic living conditions has dampened the holy month's festive mood.
Around 1.5 million people have sought refuge in Rafah, according to the United Nations, largely without access to food, water and medicines.
"I suffer from diabetes, high blood pressure and heart problems," said Abu Mansur, describing his daily battle to find medicines.
"I cannot eat canned food items."
Despite Israel and Egypt's long-running blockade of the Gaza Strip, in previous years the goods needed for Ramadan were still available.
"This Ramadan is different from last year when everything to do with Ramadan was available -- be it electricity, food, water," said Abdelrahman Ashur, 19.
"Nothing is available anymore. We don't feel that joy. Every Ramadan we used to be at home and now we are sitting in tents that we built with our own hands."
- 'Real test' coming -
As the sun rose on the first day of Ramadan, smoke from air strikes was visible over Rafah.
Awni al-Kayyal, 50, said he saw ambulances carrying dead bodies as soon as he woke up.
"The start of Ramadan has been sad and covered in darkness, with the smell of blood and stench everywhere... I woke up in my tent and started crying at our situation," he told AFP.
Late on Sunday, worshippers performed evening prayers at Al-Hadi mosque, damaged in an Israeli strike.
Its classic Islamic arches are now chipped and cracked, while the concrete columns supporting the ceiling inside are dangerously askew.
According to Gaza's Hamas-run government press office, Israeli forces have targeted more than 500 mosques since the beginning of the war, with 220 of them destroyed.
Meanwhile, in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, fears of clashes during Ramadan prevail among Palestinians.
Every year, tens of thousands of Muslims perform Ramadan prayers at the Al-Aqsa mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam.
This year Hamas has called on "our people" to mobilise and march towards Al-Aqsa from the start of Ramadan.
"For now it's more or less quiet. We will see on Friday," said Ali, a resident of the Old City, referring to Friday prayers, when large congregations gather at the mosque. "That will be (the) real test," he said.

Shining BD