Its walls collapsed and its minaret cut short, Gaza’s Omari mosque remains standing but vastly diminished. Around it, the historic old city is also in tatters. The 7th-century mosque, also known as the Great Mosque of Gaza, was Gaza’s most famous and its surroundings a focal point of the Palestinian enclave’s history and culture, but the damage done to its heritage over more than 100 days of Israeli bombardment spreads across the city.
For the few Palestinians who remain, and the far greater number displaced and hoping to return, the culture and history has been reduced to memories.
“The city is a ghost town, people walk around with pale faces and their spirits are tired after having gone through this war. If you walk to the old city of Gaza, you will only remember the memories and feel sickened and saddened by the amount of destruction of cultural and religious sites,” said Bader Alzaharna, who lives in Gaza City despite the intensity of Israel’s ground operation in the area.
“The old city of Gaza, which used to be full of cultural sites, is grey and overcast. Walking in Gaza feels like we are in a movie, in a fictional story, in a fantasy. The scene is apocalyptic.”
Unesco, the UN agency responsible for protecting culture, says it has verified damage to at least 22 sites, including mosques, churches, historical homes, universities, archives and the archeological site of Anthedon Harbour, Gaza’s first known seaport. [Continue reading…]
When the leader of Hamas in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, launched his devastating assault on Israel on 7 October, the militant group’s exiled leadership, like the rest of the world, was apparently caught unawares.
From plush penthouses in Beirut, Doha and Istanbul, they watched the carnage that killed 1,200 Israelis unfold, as well as Israel’s retaliatory campaign on the Gaza Strip. In the past four months Israel has killed an estimated 27,600 people, displaced 85% of the 2.3 million population and razed more than half of the besieged Palestinian territory’s infrastructure.
In the early days of the war, while Sinwar’s cadre was calling on Arab peoples across the Middle East to join the fight against Israel, the Doha-based chair of Hamas’s political bureau, Ismail Haniyeh, appeared to focus on damage control. Talks mediated by Egypt, Qatar and the US resulted in a ceasefire and hostage and prisoner swaps at the end of November that lasted seven days before collapsing.
Now, it seems that those roles have reversed. According to reports, it is Sinwar and his men, exhausted from the fighting, who want to reach a temporary truce deal, and Haniyeh’s office that is demanding more concessions and holding out for a complete Israeli withdrawal.
On Tuesday night, cautious optimism for a deal returned, after fears that negotiations on a second truce were once again falling apart. [Continue reading…]