Gaza: 'The children wake up screaming. I am worried it will damage them'

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The Independent Online

Mahmoud Mughari speaks bluntly. "I normally wash and shower twice a day. Now I can only do it every four or five days. The children smell. We all smell. We are worried that this will cause diseases."

Outside the home in central Gaza he and his own family share with his elderly parents, five married brothers and their children - 48 in all - Mr Mughari was describing the impact made by Israel's air strikes in Gaza last week, one of which severed the water pipe serving this refugee camp of 57,000 people.

The first problem, Mr Mughari, says, is that power - which would normally be running, among much else, refrigeration and fans in the current 91F (33C) temperatures - has been cut from 24 hours a day to eight hours a day.

This is itself a function of Palestinian engineers reallocating some of the electricity half of Gaza takes from Israel to the other half previously dependent on the Gaza power station whose transformers were destroyed in Wednesday's missile attack. The second is that water previously available two days out of three is now available for only four to five hours every third day. And the third is that the impossibility so far of ensuring electricity and water coincide makes it impossible to pump the water up to the roof tanks and provide a steady supply through the taps.

They have been storing their rationed supplies in two blue 250- litre barrels, saving most of it for drinking and - when it is possible - for cooking. And to escape the heat, he says, members of the family have started sleeping on mattresses on the pavement outside the house. The latest crisis has compounded the problems of the Mughari family ever since Hamas provoked an international economic blockade of the Palestinian Authority by winning last January's election.

Mr Mughari, one of only two brothers working - the other three are unemployed tailors - has not received the £134-per-month salary for three months from the job creation scheme on which he works. While the family are eligible for UN food aid, he says their meat consumption has fallen from three or four times a week to once a fortnight.

The family is also coming to terms with the resumption of the deliberate sonic booms, or "bombs", generated by Israeli F-16s overflying Gaza, starting in the predawn hours. "The children wake up screaming and run into my room," he says. "Some of them understand that this is just a very loud noise, but Mai, my four-year-old daughter thinks it is a real bombardment. I am worried that it will affect them psychologically in the future."

If the purpose of Israel's military campaign so far is to secure a major shift in Palestinian public opinion, it does not appear to have worked. Flanked by his parents and many of his own and his brothers' children, Mr Mughari says that even if there is an Israeli ground incursion: "We'll take it even if it gets worse."

There are few overt signs of preparations by militants, but Mr Mughari adds: "If [the Israelis] come here they will not get roses. There will be resistance." He adds of Cpl Shalit's abduction: "My personal opinion is that there should be a prison exchange."

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