Archive for January, 2017

Qatar set to build embassy in Gaza Strip

JAN. 9, 2017

GAZA (Ma’an) — Qatar has reportedly decided to build an embassy in the besieged Gaza Strip during a meeting of the Qatari committee for Gaza reconstruction on Monday.

The head of the committee, Abd al-Halim al-Issawi, gave the greenlight for the construction of the embassy after visiting the planned location, a five-dunam (1.2 acres) plot of land south of the Gaza City port, on Thursday with contractors.

While Qatar has had a representative office in the besieged Palestinian enclave, the planned embassy could mark a significant diplomatic move, as most countries have implanted their diplomatic missions and consulates to the occupied Palestinian territory in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Qatar is a prominent backer of the Hamas movement — the de facto ruling party in Gaza — and has provided significant financial support for reconstruction in the blockaded enclave following several devastating Israeli offensives.

Naji Sharab, a professor of political science at Gaza’s al-Azhar University, told the Dunya al-Watan news outlet that “such a step is unprecedented in diplomatic relations,” and that he saw it as a potential move by Qatar to recognize the Gaza Strip as a national entity separate from the Palestinian Authority-ruled West Bank.

However, Dunya al-Watan quoted another political analyst and writer, Hussam al-Dajani, as saying that embassies are usually located in the capital cities of the host countries, but that given East Jerusalem’s occupied status, “Qatar can choose a location for its embassy to Palestine in coordination with the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”

Al-Dajani thus dismissed the significance of the move “as long as the Foreign Ministry in Ramallah and the one in Gaza are in agreement.”

Source: Ma’an News Agency.

Link: http://www.maannews.com/Content.aspx?id=774823.

Saudi unblocks military aid to Lebanon: Lebanese source

Riyadh (AFP)

Jan 10, 2017

Saudi Arabia and Lebanon agreed Tuesday to hold talks on restoring a $3-billion military aid package, opening a “new page” in relations, a Lebanese official source said.

“The blockage is lifted,” said the official in the delegation of Lebanese President Michel Aoun, who held talks over lunch with King Salman in the Saudi capital.

After a tense year which saw Saudi Arabia freeze the aid deal over what it said was the dominance of Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah movement, Aoun arrived in Riyadh on Monday night with a delegation of ministers.

It was his first trip to the kingdom since his election in November ended a two-year deadlock between Iran- and Saudi-backed blocs in the Lebanese parliament.

Aoun, a Maronite Christian former army chief who was backed by Hezbollah, clinched the presidency with shock support from Saudi ally Saad Hariri, a leading Sunni figure who in return was named prime minister.

Analysts say Saudi Arabia is hoping for a more stable Lebanon, after concerns over the role played by Hezbollah in the Lebanese government and the threat posed by jihadists and the war in neighboring Syria.

The Iran-backed Shiite militant group has fighters in Syria supporting forces of President Bashar al-Assad, while Saudi Arabia, Iran’s regional rival, backs some rebels opposed to his government.

Riyadh last March declared Hezbollah a “terrorist organisation” and urged its citizens to leave Lebanon.

In February, the kingdom halted the $3-billion (2.8-billion-euro) military aid package to Lebanon to protest what it said was “the stranglehold of Hezbollah on the state”.

The program would see Riyadh fund the transfer of vehicles, helicopters, drones, cannons and other military equipment from France, which has been seeking to boost arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the Middle East.

The Lebanese official told AFP that a “new page” in relations with Riyadh had been turned and said the aid was “going to move”.

“There is truly a change. But when and how, we have to wait to see,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

He added that King Salman’s son, the powerful Defense Minister and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, will discuss with his Lebanese counterpart how to move the package forward.

– ‘Security, stability’ –

After Aoun’s election, France’s foreign ministry said it was in “close dialogue” with Lebanon and Saudi Arabia in hope of a deal.

Aoun told Saudi state news channel Al-Ekhbaria that his ministers of foreign affairs, education, finance and information would meet their Saudi counterparts “to find some fields of cooperation.”

Asked vaguely about the military aid, Aoun said: “Of course we will discuss all the possible issues.”

Syria’s nearly six-year civil war has been a major fault line in Lebanese politics, and the country hosts more than one million Syrian refugees.

Aoun said that Lebanon’s partners “have agreed to build Lebanon, regardless of the results in the other countries, because building Lebanon is for all, and secondly, security and stability is for all.”

He told Al-Ekhbaria his country’s internal political situation had improved, and expressed confidence that “balance” can be maintained.

“The state must realize, and maintain, security and stability for individuals and groups even if there are different political visions regarding neighboring and regional countries,” Aoun said.

Source: Space War.

Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Saudi_unblocks_military_aid_to_Lebanon_Lebanese_source_999.html.

French right-wing candidate wants new approach toward Syria

January 10, 2017

PARIS (AP) — Francois Fillon has vowed to make France’s voice heard again in the Syrian conflict if he wins the presidential election later this year. Fillon, the conservative nominee, said in a New Year’s speech to press Fillon on Tuesday: “I want us to regain our position as an independent actor whose voice is heard between the Americans and the Russians.”

Fillon said the situation in Syria is changing and will leave more space this year for what he called France’s “imaginative and active” diplomacy, a reference to Gen. Charles de Gaulle’s policy to maintain the country’s independence during the Cold War.

Fillon and far-right leader Marine Le Pen currently top polls for the first-round of the April-May presidential election. Socialists will choose their candidate in a Jan. 22-29 primary.

Fading French town offers hope of new life for Syrian family

January 05, 2017

GRAY, France (AP) — Gray is a dying town, its residents lament. Big businesses moved away taking jobs with them. Now many stores lie vacant, fading “to rent” signs in the windows. But for one Syrian family, the town’s picturesque streets, red-tiled rooftops and quiet river walks offers hope of rebuilding their shattered lives, away from the fear of death lurking around every corner in their homeland.

“I will start to love life another time,” said 43-year-old oncologist Abd Alwahab Alahamad. “Because sometimes (in the) last two years, I thought it will be very difficult to stay alive.” Like hundreds of thousands before them, the Alahamads risked everything to escape war and the dark brutality of the Islamic State group, embarking on a perilous and uncertain journey through checkpoints, bombs and a nightmarish sea crossing to Greece.

But after months of uncertainty and doubt, their luck began to change. Alahamad, his wife Iman Mshanati, 33, and their three children — 5-year-old Nora, 2-year-old Ahmed and baby Layan, born in Greece six months ago — were among the fortunate few accepted for European relocation.

Launched in late 2015, the program was designed to relieve pressure on Greece and Italy, the main entry points for more than a million people fleeing into the European Union. But it has come under criticism for moving too slowly.

Applicants can’t choose their destination country. Neither the Russian-trained doctor nor his wife, a nutritionist and beautician, had ever been to France, which has taken in more people than any other country that’s part of the program.

“We are going into the unknown; We do not know the city, the people, nothing,” Mshanti said in a small apartment in Athens the day before their flight to Paris, three suitcases neatly packed on the floor. “But we hear from people who had left before us that they are happy, and we felt relieved.”

The Alahamads never intended to leave Syria. They didn’t expect 2011 anti-government street protests to turn into a full-blown civil war. “At first everybody thought — not only me — that it will finish tomorrow, the day after tomorrow,” Alahamad said of the early days of the rebellion.

In 2014, warned government forces were looking for him after he treated a man for gunshot wounds, Alahamad fled Damascus, moving his family east to near the city of Deir-e-Zor. The war followed. IS overran the area. Relentless bombings killed relatives and friends. When rockets landed near their home, Alahamad decided the time had come.

“I left. I left everything behind,” he said. With two young children and a pregnant wife, the journey was harrowing. The nighttime treks and border crossing, the smugglers, the truck ride with nearly 100 others. But nothing compared to the boat crossing from Turkey to Greece. A terrified Nora clutched her father’s hand, convinced they would die.

They arrived in Greece in early March. Alahamad spent months as a volunteer doctor in refugee camps housing some of the more than 62,000 people stranded in Greece by border closures and an EU-Turkey deal intended to stem the flow of migrants into Europe. The family thought of staying, but Greece’s asylum system was overwhelmed.

So they applied for relocation. September brought the news they had been waiting for: their application was successful. The Alahamads were assigned to Gray, a pretty town of about 6,000 people on the River Saone. They would be part of the second group sent there from Greece. The first — five families — arrived in March.

To facilitate integration, Gray Mayor Christophe Laurencot stipulated the town would accept only families, and each assigned a social worker. Housing is provided during the asylum application, a process that takes about four months in the fast-track relocation procedure, said Guillaume Germain, regional director of the French Immigration and Integration Office.

But small, close-knit towns do not always embrace outsiders. Laurencot decided the best tactic was transparency, and informed residents about the program before the first arrivals in March. “We had reactions straight away,” he said. “Good, less good or bad, I had them all.” There were overwhelmingly generous offers from some, while others questioned why the state should help foreigners.

But, Laurencot said, “France is after all a country of hosts, a country of reception, a welcoming country. And it’s not enough to say it; we had to do it.” So far, the mayor’s tactic appears to be working.

“We see them pass by, there are no worries on that account, everything is going well,” said Stephanie Vanhee, who runs an optical shop in Gray. Toddler Ahmed squealed with joy at being allowed to pet her puppy, Morito, during the family’s first tour around town. “It must be done, you know. We must receive them.”

Clothing store owner Roberte Fouillot said there was some initial reticence to the idea, what with the recent terror attacks and demands on social services by needy French people. But news of the Syrian war shocked her.

“These poor kids, these poor families who are suffering — it’s unacceptable in our day and age,” Fouillot said. As for the issue of integration, Fouillot didn’t foresee problems. “They are people like everyone else. We all have our religion,” she said. “Today, if everyone reached out to each other, well, there might be less wars, less misery in the world.”

Calls for UK to expel Israeli official

January 8, 2017

The UK government should immediately remove Israeli Embassy official Shia Masot from the country after he was filmed discussing how to “take down” a senior government minister, the Scottish National Party said today.

Shai Masot was caught on camera talking to Tory MP Robert Halfon’s former chief of staff Maria Strizzolo at a restaurant in Kensington in October. Masot can be seen saying deputy foreign minister Sir Alan Duncan is causing “a lot of problems” and describes foreign secretary Boris Johnson as “an idiot”.

Following an apology from the Israeli Ambassador Mark Regev the UK Government said it considered the matter closed which Alex Salmond has described as “completely unacceptable”.

However, SNP Foreign Affairs spokesperson Alex Salmond said: “It is completely unacceptable for the UK government to declare the matter closed – Shai Masot must go and go immediately before the end of his tenure at the Israeli Embassy.”

“Boris Johnson must right now revoke Mr Masot’s diplomatic status and remove him from the country as would most certainly have happened had the circumstances been reversed. Perhaps then the Israeli Government representatives will regard the foreign secretary as less of a fool.”

“I would expect the UK government to fully investigate this matter so that we can be confident our elected officials are free to carry out their jobs to the best of their ability and without fear of having their reputation smeared by Embassy officials who do not agree with their views.”

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20170108-calls-for-uk-to-expel-israeli-official/.

Israeli arrested for threatening convicted soldier’s judges

January 05, 2017

JERUSALEM (AP) — Police have arrested an Israeli man for inciting against military judges who convicted a soldier for manslaughter over the fatal shooting of a badly wounded Palestinian attacker. Police spokeswoman Luba Samri says Thursday the arrest came after a threatening Facebook post. She says police will act against those inciting to violence against public officials.

The rare conviction of a soldier for operational conduct has deeply divided Israel and led to an unprecedented campaign in support of Sgt. Elor Azaria and against the military establishment, long the country’s most admired body.

In protests outside the courtroom, demonstrators chanted veiled death threats against military chief Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, who supported charging the soldier. The trial’s three military judges and the lead prosecutor have also faced threats and have been assigned bodyguards.

Russia downsizing Syria military deployment

2017-01-06

MOSCOW – Russia’s military on Friday said it has begun scaling down its deployment to Syria, with Moscow’s sole aircraft carrier set to be the first to quit the conflict zone.

“In accordance with the decision of the supreme commander of the Russian armed forces Vladimir Putin, the Russian defense ministry is beginning the reduction of the armed deployment to Syria,” Russian news agencies quoted military chief Valery Gerasimov as saying.

Gerasimov said that a naval group headed by aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov would be the first to leave the area.

“The tasks set for the aircraft carrier group during its military mission have been fulfilled,” added Russia’s main commander in Syria Andrei Kartapolov, agencies reported.

Kartapolov said that Russia still had sufficient air defense capabilities in Syria thanks to its S-300 and S-400 systems deployed in the war-torn country.

Since September 2015, Russia had boosted its firepower on land in Syria and off the coast in the Mediterranean in support of regime forces targeting the second city of Aleppo.

Troops loyal to Russia’s ally Bashar al-Assad finally ousted rebels from the city last month in their biggest victory in more than five years of fighting, paving the way for the Kremlin to launch a fresh push for a political solution to the conflict.

Russian President Putin ordered a reduction in his forces in Syria on December 29, as he announced a ceasefire between government and rebel forces that has since dampened down the fighting.

Russia, along with Turkey and Iran, are currently pushing for peace talks to be held later this month in the capital of Kazakhstan, Astana.

Moscow launched its bombing campaign in Syria in September 2015, helping to turn the tide in favor of Assad’s ailing forces.

Putin already announced a partial withdrawal of Russian forces in March 2016, but Moscow later had to ramp up its presence again as fighting increased.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=80696.

Facebook closes accounts of Palestine activists

January 7, 2017

Facebook has closed the accounts of a number of Palestinian activists after using a hashtag lamenting a Palestinian assassinated by Israel 20 years ago, Quds Press reported yesterday.

Former female prisoner Ghofran Zamel, fiancée of Hassan Salameh who is spending several life sentences in Israeli jails, said that she was surprised to find her Facebook account was shut down yesterday.

Zamel said that when she wanted to open her accounts, a message appeared telling her that the accounts were closed but without giving any reasons. She said she sent messages to Facebook to complain.

Meanwhile, several activists reported their accounts were closed in addition to accounts managed by Hamas activists after using a hashtag which praised a Hamas fighter.

On 3 January, a bill authorising Israeli courts to block or delete social media content under the pretext of incitement passed its first hurdles in the Knesset.

Israeli TV Channel 7 said that this bill, if passed into law, would give the Israeli courts the power to shut down websites inciting against Israel and close Facebook or Twitter accounts that are considered as inciting to violence or that are provocative.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20170107-facebook-closes-accounts-of-palestine-activists/.

After Aleppo’s fall, Hamas finds itself resisting Tehran as well as Tel Aviv

Wednesday 28 December 2016

The fall of Aleppo to Iran-backed pro-government forces has brought a bubbling conflict between Iran and Hamas to the boil, with the former making thinly-veiled threats to cut off the Palestinian group.

The threats came from Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, a member of the Iranian Foreign Affairs and National Security Committee, in the wake of increasing solidarity from Hamas to Aleppo.

In an interview last week with the reformist Qanun newspaper, Falahatpisheh made clear there would be material consequences if Hamas did not change its position on Iran’s role in the region, not least its intervention in Syria.

If Hamas does not reconsider the “inconsistent positions by its leaders,” Tehran will be forced to turn to “the most detested of available options” – turning to other Palestinian factions such as the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, said Falahatpisheh on 21 December.

The tensions between Hamas, the most renowned anti-Israel movement in the region, and Iran are significant, as Tehran legitimizes its foreign policy through its “Axis of Resistance” against Israel and the United States, which includes Hamas, Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“Currently, the sphere of influence of the resistance extends from the Indian subcontinent to the borders of Israel,” Falahatpisheh said.

The harshness of the senior Iranian official’s tone underlines the depth of the crisis in relations. Falahatpisheh accused Hamas of continuing to “support terrorist groups working under the umbrella of the Syrian opposition”.

He described Hamas’ current stance as “hostile,” and saw the group as moving out of Iran’s sphere of influence.

Falahatpisheh demanded Hamas not forget that Syria was, in his words, “a leader in the resistance, and much of its misfortunes are now due to this position”.

Hamas’ support for Aleppo

“We are following with great pain what is happening in Aleppo and the horrific massacres, murders and genocide its people are going through, and condemn it entirely,” read a statement from Hamas at the height of the bombardment of Aleppo.

The movement asked those whom it described as “wise, free and responsible in the ummah (global Islamic community) to act promptly to protect civilians in Aleppo and save those who are still alive”.

It also called on international, human rights and humanitarian institutions around the world to intervene immediately to “stop these dreadful massacres, stand by the children, women and elderly of Aleppo and save them from death and destruction”.

Ahmed Youssef, a senior Hamas figure and former foreign relations head, told al-Khaleej Online that his group would not change course – not least after what happened in Aleppo.

Youssef said the group’s position reflected that of the Palestinian public, who themselves have suffered similar brutality during Israel’s repeated assaults on the Gaza Strip.

He was adamant that Hamas would continue to stand in solidarity with Syria and condemn the killing of civilians there.

During Hamas’ recent parade commemorating the movement’s 29th anniversary, civilian Gazans and Qassam Brigade soldiers alike were seen carrying banners in solidarity with the people of Aleppo.

Hamas-Iran tensions

On the issue of Iranian-Hamas relations, the Iranian outlet Qanun threw in its own two cents: “It seems that Hamas moved away from Iran a long time ago.”

“This can be clearly seen from what is taking place in Syria. All of this is occurring at a time when leaders of the movement deny the existence of any differences of opinion between Tehran and the movement.

“In reality, however, their actions contradict their words.”

“Its financial relations with the Arabs are the reason behind the incoherent positions among the movement’s leaders,” Falahatpisheh said, going as far as to add that the “Israeli lobby” was influencing the group’s position.

He accused a “current” within Hamas of “seeking to save Daesh under the label of the Syrian opposition”.

There are also tensions within Hamas’s leadership over Iran’s influence on the group’s direction, which were made public through information leaked to the London-based pan-Arab al-Sharq al-Awsat daily.

The leaks came from a meeting of senior Hamas leaders, where a leading commander of Hamas’s military wing expressed his concern over growing Iranian influence due to its financial and military support for the group.

Salah al-Arouri is a founding commander of Hamas’ military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, and the movement’s preeminent figure in the West Bank.

According to the leaks, he accused Qassem Soleimani – leader of the Quds Force, the elite branch of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) – of trying to weaken the Qassam Brigade’s allegiance to Hamas and attempting to absorb them into the Quds Force.

Arouri also protested in the meeting against the pressure Soleimani was putting on the group to pledge complete loyalty to Tehran in the same way Islamic Jihad had done when their general secretary, Ramadan Shalah, led a delegation to Tehran and pledged an oath of allegiance to the Iranian regime.

Relations between Hamas and Iran deteriorated sharply following the outbreak of the Syrian revolution in 2011. The following year, the group’s leadership left Damascus after being based there for more than a decade. Their funding was reduced drastically shortly thereafter.

“Our position on Syria affected relations with Iran. Its support for us never stopped, but the amounts [of money] were significantly reduced,” a senior Hamas official said in 2013.

In response to this turn of events, Iran ramped up funding for other Palestinian groups, most notably the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Islamic Jihad moves closer to Iran

Islamic Jihad has staged its own show of force in Gaza in recent months in a rally including its military wing – the al-Quds Brigades.

Shalah, quoted in the al-Sharq al-Awsat leaks as criticizing Iranian influence, spoke via video link at the October rally, saying: “[Iran] is the only country which commits to the unending support of the Palestinian cause”.

Islamic Jihad has had their own tensions with Iran over Syria for the past two years, but have recently changed tune and become one of Iran’s most vociferous Palestinian proxies.

Earlier this year, Shalah led a Palestinian Islamic Jihad delegation to Tehran and met with Soleimani.

“The defense of Palestine amounts to a defense of Islam,” Shalah said, adding: “The Arab states did not support the popular uprising in Palestine and will never support it since it contradicts their leaders’ agendas. Iran is the only state that supports the intifada and the martyrs’ families.”

Soleimani pledged to provide $70m in annual assistance to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad after the visit, which could explain their change in direction.

JPost reported that the move could be seen as a snub to Hamas following the 2015 visit by the movement’s political chief Khaled Meshaal to Iran’s arch-rival Saudi Arabia, which appeared to mark a significant warming of relations with the Gulf state.

At the end of his interview, Falahatpisheh said that Tehran “does not see Hamas as the whole of the resistance.

“If Hamas continues its current political direction in obstructing things, then Iran will develop new relations with other Palestinian groups without seriously harming the resistance.”

Source: Middle East Eye.

Link: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/after-aleppo-s-fall-hamas-finds-itself-resisting-tehran-well-tel-aviv-1017030317.

Being Gaza’s first international student

December 15, 2016

While I was studying my bachelor’s degree in the Islamic University of Malaysia I told my Palestinian friends that I want to do my master’s in the Islamic University of Gaza (IUG), they told me this is impossible. They said they were unable to enter the Strip even though they are Palestinians.

I kept this childhood dream in the deepest part of my heart; it was my ambition to complete my master’s in IUG. After my bachelor’s degree I returned to Turkey and began work. A couple of years later I felt ready to continue my studies.

I was eager to complete a master’s degree which I could really enjoy and sink my teeth into, not just study for the sake of saying I have obtained this new certificate. I knew I would not be able to find what I was looking for in Turkey and Europe was too cold for me, America’s approach to studies also ruled it out.

It was then that I received a letter from a friend in Gaza, when I explained my dream of studying in Gaza the only response I received was “why not?”. So I applied. I also got in touch with a member of the faculty of IUG who had studied in Turkey and had a love for the country.

My application reached the university rector and he replied: “Turks are our brothers, they were with us throughout our struggles; send her acceptance letter.” The university’s plan to have a program for international students started with me.

Before I applied for a visa to Egypt I asked the Turkish Embassy in Cairo to obtain permission for me to enter the Gaza Strip through the Rafah crossing. They told me that I had a 50 per cent chance of being accepted because this was the first case of its kind. I kept my faith in God and, two months later, I received a call telling me that I was permitted to travel.

The permission given to me meant I could pass through the Rafah crossing when it was open, so when I applied for a visa to Egypt and heard the crossing was to be opened I rushed to make it on time. I arrived in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, and headed to Arish. The journey was difficult but once I arrived in Gaza that didn’t matter.

The weather in Gaza was different to that in Egypt; by just crossing the border I sensed a change. Gaza hugs you with a warm welcome. Its people were wonderful and made me forget the terrifying journey I’d made to get there.

A group from the university and a friend came to pick me up from the border crossing and we headed straight to the campus.

People were surprised that I’d come from abroad to study at their university and I heard time and again: “You’ve honored us.” Everyone made me feel at home in my new surroundings.

When I enrolled in my courses lecturers were very accommodating going through the subject matter in both English and Arabic to ensure I understood. They also help me improve my Arabic language skills. I struggled at first, at home I’d learnt Quranic Arabic, here they used a more colloquial dialect which I didn’t fully comprehend at times.

People’s hospitality means I am never worried about what I was going to eat, I am regularly invited to people’s houses, everyone is so hospitable and generous. Occasionally I find a restaurant and enjoy eating out. The food throughout the Strip, from Rafah, in the south, to Jabalia, in the north, is great.

I am now staying in Jabalia, approximately 20 mins from Gaza City which was home to my university. Unfortunately, I don’t drive so it wasn’t a short trip for me. I had to use three modes of transport to get to university including a shared minicab.

I had been warned about the cost of rent and the high cost of living which had been compared to prices in Istanbul, but I am finding life in Gaza is cheaper than that in Turkey. The area looks dated, like my hometown of Diyarbakir looked in the 1990s. But this is an amazing feat for a city that has survived three wars. The beauty of Khan Yunis and Rafah made me reminisce about life in Turkey but the Gaza air and the olive, lemon, date and palm gardens all brought me back to appreciating the beauty of my surroundings.

The beautiful fields weren’t the only relaxing aspect of life in Gaza. During my free time I often go to the beach to enjoy the sea breeze and watch the waves crash onto the shore. There are also a large number of charities and organisations that support the community, orphans and victims of war. Sports complexes are numerous in the Strip so there is always something to do but nothing beats running along the beach.

Things were different for me the first time I experienced the bombardments. On my first night in Gaza there were two rocket attacks. I could feel my body freeze. By morning I had recovered and when I told my friends about my experience they laughed, it was nothing they told me, they’d experienced 76 in one night!

I quickly learnt to do as Gazans do when there’s a bombing.

Once I was in class and 35 rockets attacked the area. I had had plans to have dinner with my friend’s family and these were plans I didn’t cancel. We ate under bombardment. This is daily life in Gaza and even babies are getting used to the sounds and situation.

When I’d call to check on my friends following the bombings they’d reply with surprise: “This is normal, we are used to this, don’t worry.”

I have now been in Gaza for more than 40 days, my Arab language skills have improved significantly, and because of the delicious food on offer my waistline has also been affected!

Every day I love Gaza more and am thankful I’m here.

I’ve never felt so much peace in all my life.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20161215-gazas-first-international-student/.