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GAZA CITY, Gaza – It's the holy month of Ramadan, when people throughout the Muslim world meet with friends and family, buy presents for loved ones and break a day-long fast each evening amid colorful street scenes.
But not in Gaza City, one of the world's most densely populated cities. A ceaseless Israeli bombing campaign, with airstrikes every five minutes, has turned the frenetic hub of the Gaza Strip into a virtual ghost town, emptying streets, closing shops and keeping hundreds of thousands of people close to home where they feel safest from the bombs.
In Israel, hundreds of rockets fired by Gaza militants also send civilians running into bomb shelters and staying close to home. However, there have been no fatalities there, while the death toll in Gaza topped 120 on Saturday from the five-day offensive.
In Gaza, residents remain torn between fear for their safety and sadness over the loss of a normal Ramadan, usually a time of deep spirituality leavened by great joy and celebration.
"The situation is very bad and not usual at all," housewife Umm Al-Abed said. "People in the month of Ramadan used to visit each other and go to buy things that are only sold during Ramadan. But now because of the atmosphere of war, people are afraid to go out and there are no salaries for anyone."
As she spoke, she searched in vain for open shops on Omar Mukhtar, one of the city's main thoroughfares, where she had hoped to buy special foods for the holiday.
"The economy is very bad and as you can see the shops are all closed and the people are all in their homes," she said.
In nearby Jabalya, 77-year-old Ibrahim Mahmoud Daoud looked on grimly as several young men from the neighborhood helped him sift through the rubble of his two-story home, leveled early Friday by a bomb dropped from an Israeli warplane. A father to eight — seven married daughters and an unmarried son — Daoud sounded defiant as he considered the latest violent round in the long-running struggle between Israel and Hamas.
It was not clear why the home was targeted. Israel says it targets buildings used by Hamas for military purposes.
"We don't need houses," Daoud said. "What we need is a country. I wish I were a young man, so I could wear a suicide belt and go blow myself up in Tel Aviv."
Some quietly criticize Hamas. Abu Ali, a driver for his family business who identified himself only by his first names to avoid Hamas retribution, insisted that at least in his immediate neighborhood, the movement was widely reviled.
"Everybody here hates Hamas," he said. "But they're too afraid to say so publicly. Our food comes from Israel but what we give them in return is rockets — rockets that don't even make little holes in the ground."