A year after the pull-out, Gaza's hopes for peace and prosperity lie in ruins

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The Independent Online

Imad Badawi has put on hold his dreams of building his own home in Gaza City.

For the past four months, the cleaner, 25, has had to borrow from relatives to support his wife and one-year-old daughter because of an international aid blockade. Western donors decided to block all salaries to the Palestinian territories following the electoral victory of the Islamist Hamas movement, over its refusal to recognise Israel.

The owner of the El Sammak fish restaurant surveys his empty tables overlooking a dusty road, where donkey carts vie for space with cars. " The Israelis have closed the sea to our fishermen. There are no customers. I need money to feed my family," he says.

It was not meant to be like this. On 15 August last year, when the Israelis began their unilateral pullout from Gaza, evicting 8,500 settlers from the territory which they had occupied for 38 years, Palestinians dared to hope they would take over the greenhouses left behind by the Israelis and start to build their own economy by exporting their flowers, vegetables and fruit.

One year later, the Israelis have not recovered the security they craved, and the Palestinians' hopes are shattered. First, the vital Karni cargo crossing has either been closed or had opening times severely restricted. Then public servants were punished by the international community after Palestinians voted to replace the discredited and corrupt Fatah leadership. And since the end of June, following the capture of an Israeli soldier, the Israeli military has returned, with its warplanes, tanks and helicopter gunships, punishing the 1.4 million Gazans for the home-made Qassam rockets fired by militants towards Israeli towns.

Three Palestinians from one family were killed yesterday by an Israeli air strike in the northern Gaza Strip, after two rockets were fired towards the Israeli city of Ashkelon. In less than two months, almost 180 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, most of them civilians. The Israelis have uprooted orange trees, partly destroyed the territory's only power plant and destroyed several bridges. Parts of the strip have no electricity between 7am and 5pm.

But Palestinians are mainly suffering from their lack of income, with no sign that the Hamas government will agree to the international demands.Gaza's mayor, Majed Abu Ramadan, said yesterday that parents could not even afford the cost of school uniforms for their children.