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Water, electricity, McDonald's: Gazans hope for reconciliation

[GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories] Hamas is due to hand over power in the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian Authority by Friday as part of a reconciliation deal, raising hopes humanitarian suffering there can be eased.

Gazans' demands are mostly simple: water, electricity, the right to travel.

The coastal enclave has been blockaded by Israel for a decade, while the only other border - with Egypt - has been also largely sealed in recent years.

Residents receive only a few hours of electricity per day, and UN officials have said Gaza is becoming rapidly unliveable.

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Israel says its restrictions are necessary to isolate Islamist movement Hamas, which has ruled the enclave since seizing it in 2007. It has fought three wars with Israel since.

Gazans explain why reconciliation matters to them: - The stranded student - Yahya al-Majayda, 18, is meant to be studying medicine. He applied for university in Ukraine, was accepted and even received the visa. But with the borders sealed, he is stuck.

"My visa has been valid for two months but I haven't been able to travel because of the border.

"It expires in January. If I don't arrive by that date they won't renew it and I will lose around US$2,000 I spent.

"My future depends on the opening of the border and the national government taking control in Gaza.

"I am very scared reconciliation will fail, my future will be lost completely." - The daughter cut off from family - Maysaa al-Shanti, a 45-year-old mother of six, hasn't seen her parents since Hamas took control. They moved to Saudi Arabia decades ago.

"I dream of reconciliation and for them to open the crossings so I can travel to see my family in Saudi Arabia.

"I haven't seen them in 11 years. My father died without me seeing him.

"I don't know when I will see my mother and siblings if they don't succeed with reconciliation." - The rival bureaucrats - In a strange quirk, there are two civil services in Gaza.

When Hamas took over in 2007, the majority of the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority employees were told to stop working.

Hamas set up a rival administration, while tens of thousands of PA employees continued to get a salary without working.

Leila Saqar was among them. She is hoping to return to her job with the health ministry.

"Ten years at home without work has negative psychological and professional effects.

"I don't care if my colleagues or the patients I treat are Hamas or Fatah. We are all Palestinians.

"As employees in the PA we will complement the Hamas employees, who have acquired experience during their years of work, dealing with new projects we today must learn about." Mahmoud al-Faraa, head of public relations with the Hamas media ministry, could be losing his job.

A final decision about Hamas employees has been put off until early next year, with a merger possible, but Faraa said he was personally in favour of reconciliation to ease conditions for his family.

"As an employee also I hope there will be reconciliation so I can get my full salary from the Palestinian Authority, and develop our capacities and expertise." - The unemployed graduate - Wael al-Haj, 32, graduated from university in 2008, but since then he has been mostly unemployed.

"All we want is reconciliation and for the economic and living situations to improve and to get a chance to work. All I want is to provide my family with a stable and dignified life.

"The Gaza Strip has seen a huge tragedy as a result of the split." - The child who wants to fly - Hamada Ahmed, 12, a student in a United Nations school in Gaza, doesn't know exactly what reconciliation is - but he hopes it means he will be able to leave Gaza for the first time.

"My dad said if they open the crossings to everyone we will travel. I hope to fly in a plane and eat McDonald's."

AFP

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