PALESTINE: HOMELESS GAZA FAMILIES TAKE STOCK OF LOSSES AFTER WINTER STORM

GAZA CITY, Feb 23– As a severe winter storm buffeted Palestine this week leaving the hilltops of the West Bank covered in snow, tens of thousands of families in Gaza left homeless by Israel’s most recent assault struggled to cope in frigid temperatures along the coast.

Scores of families are still living in tents set up beside their destroyed homes, trying their hardest to stay warm despite a severe shortage of electricity and fuel for generators or heaters.

The Abu Tayamas are one of those families stuck in the eye of the storm with only a light piece of fabric to protect them.

Their tent is located directly beside the ruins of their former home in Khan Younis, bombed to bits by Israel last summer. They complain that officials gave them no support after they lost their home, and they are now stuck living in a worn out tent.

“Whatever we do to try to stay warm it is still cold,” Umm Mazen told Ma’an. “Water runs under our feet, the storm is strong, and the sound of thunder resembles the sound of shelling.”

Umm Mazen said that her daughter Mira complains about the deep cold repeatedly throughout the day, but her only response is: “What can I do, dear?”

The heavy rainfall and severe thunder storms of the last few days have led to flooding in many areas that has worsened the cold facing many.

“My children cry and complain of the cold most of the time, and I do not know what I can do,” she said.

Umm Mazen told Ma’an that the family had a “quiet and warm life” before the war, adding: “Not one of the officials feels the cold that my children feel.”

Her husband Suleiman told Ma’an that living in a tent is a “real tragedy” for the five-person family.

“I try to light a fire to keep us warm in the tent, and we gather around it to have some fun too. But the cold is stronger because water is always running under our feet,” he said.

He said that the family had not managed to get proper sleep for the past three days because of the severe cold and the sounds of the wind terrifying the children.

The Abu Tayama family’s experience is not unusual in the Gaza Strip, where the homes of around 110,000 were damaged or destroyed in the Israeli assault.

In January, Israeli rights group B’Tselem said that Israel had deliberately targeted Palestinian homes, killing hundreds by bombing them despite near certainty that they were occupied.

But for the thousands that managed to escape the bloodbath but lost their homes, nearly six months later the situation still looks bleak.

Israel has refused to allow construction material to enter the Gaza Strip, which has been under a blockade for the last eight years. This has prevented reconstruction from taking place since the war ended, and left many hopeless as to when, if ever, their homes will be rebuilt.

The blockade — which stops almost all imports and exports — has ravaged Gaza’s economy and made the tiny coastal Strip dependent on international aid. But with Israel now blocking even that, Gazans are stuck in a nightmare with no clear way out.

No deaths or injuries

Over the course of the storm, which began Thursday but had largely run its course by Saturday evening, emergency crews in Gaza had to intervene in 32 incidents to protect locals.

In the northern Gaza Strip, a fast-moving flood flipped over a mobile home that had been set up next to a school for a family whose home was destroyed during the Israeli offensive.

Muhammad al-Meidana, spokesman for the Gaza civil defense teams, said that the family had to be saved from inside the mobile home, which was caught in the flood.

In the Rafah district, civil defense teams evacuated some 25 families living in the Jemmeizet al-Sabil following a massive flood that drowned their homes.

Al-Meidana also said that steel rooftops were blown away by the strong winds and that several trees were torn down, in addition to several vehicles that got stuck in flooded areas.

He did not, however, that no injuries or deaths were reported in the storm.

Those figures sit in stark contrast to last month, when at least six Palestinians — five of whom were children — perished in severe cold.

SOURCE: MA’AN