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Ale-less in Gaza By: Patrick Bishop
The Telegraph | Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Jerusalem:  I have always been reluctant to accept the Israeli statesman Abba Eban's observation that the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

Arriving in Gaza yesterday, it had to be admitted that the man had a point. Four months ago, when I was last here, the place sparkled with optimism. With the hated Israelis gone, Gaza was going to show the world what Palestinians could do when left to their own devices.

The Strip's miles of golden sand were to become a sort of Islamic Miami Beach, minus the booze and bikinis. Maybe, a few diehard optimists dared to hope, Yasser Arafat's vision of Gaza as a Middle Eastern Singapore might at last start to be realised.

Yesterday, it felt more like the Wild West. The first sign of just how dodgy security has become came when Said Ghazali, The Daily Telegraph's local man in Jerusalem, and I arrived at the Palestinian side of the crossing to learn that our regular driver - stocky, dependable Ashraf - would not be there to meet us.

He had a reasonable excuse. He has the bad luck to belong to the Masri clan, who are currently engaged in a blood feud with their rivals, the Kafarnehs. The toll so far is five dead and 70-odd wounded. Yesterday a Kafarneh was injured in a shooting attack and Ashraf thought it prudent to leave his cab in the garage.

We found another driver and set off for Rafah, the scene of an extraordinary outbreak of anarchy last week. A mob killed two Egyptian border guards and bulldozed concrete walls in a successful attempt to force the authorities to release a man suspected of kidnapping the British aid worker Kate Burton and her parents.

On the way, we passed through the town of Khan Younis. The main road was blocked by what I took at first to be an election rally.

Wrong. The Masri boys were at it again, this time wading into the Tahas, their sworn enemies in the southern end of the Strip.

The action in the main street was confined to fists and boots, but, as we turned into a parallel street to detour round the mob, we ran into a gun battle, with the rivals trading Kalashnikov fire from opposing blocks of flats. The cars in front of us sped up a bit, but 50 yards from the shooting, life was going on as normal.

Most Gazans grew up with gunfire. Before, it was only the Israelis they had to worry about. Now they are shooting each other. The security forces are no help. Their rivalries are the cause of much of the bloodshed.

Somehow, though, it is never all gloom in Gaza. Yesterday, pace Abba Eban, I saw one opportunity that the Palestinians have definitely not missed.

On the site of what was once an Israeli army base, there now stands the Al Bashir Joy Land. Where once there were walls and watchtowers are slides, merry-go-rounds and swings.

At the end of a day like yesterday, I would normally retire to the UN Beach Club, a low-rise concrete joint whose seediness is more than compensated for by its views of the Mediterranean. And, of course, the fact that it is the only place in Gaza where you can get a drink.

Over the years, thousands of Middle Eastern hands have had reason to remember it fondly. Yes, we often thought as the barman placed the first frosted glasses of Heineken before us on a scorching mid-summer evening, there is a point to the United Nations.

Yesterday the Beach Club was still there. But the bar wasn't. Unknown saboteurs arrived at dawn a few days ago, tied up the guards and planted a bomb that reduced the interior to matchwood.

The way things are going in Gaza, it seems unlikely that the dear old Beach Club will be re-opening its doors any time soon.

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