In Gaza, Hamas calls prayers for rain

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* Hamas calls prayers for rain in Gaza

* Dry winter hits farmers

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA, Jan 14 (Reuters) - The Islamist group Hamas held prayers in the Gaza Strip on Thursday to ask God for rain, calling for divine help to ease a water crisis that is compounding the woes of Palestinians in the coastal enclave.

"We usually plant grain, olives and almonds. This year there is nothing. What can we do?" said Palestinian Fatima Abu Tair, lamenting the unusually dry winter that has left her land parched and trees bare. "We are awaiting God's mercy."

The Hamas-run Ministry of Religious Affairs led dozens of worshippers in prayer in a large playground in Gaza City.

"We have learned from the Prophet Mohammad, peace be upon him, that when rain is blocked and the land is dry, we should resort to God and hold prayers seeking rain," Hamas ministry official Abdallah Abu Jarboa said.

The Gaza Strip is served by a single aquifer that does not meet the needs of its population of 1.5 million Palestinians.

The aquifer has been depleted and contaminated by over-extraction, sewage and seawater and 90-95 percent of its water is unfit for human consumption, Amnesty International said in a report last year. Many Palestinians in Gaza have dug their own wells to reach better drinking water, placing additional strain on the aquifer.

Plans to build a desalination plant for Gaza have been frozen since Hamas won a legislative election in 2006 and ascended to power, defeating the long-time dominant Fatah movement of Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas.

The group seized complete control of Gaza in 2007.

"Since the Palestinian elections were held, most of the institutions of donor countries retreated from their pledges," Munther Shoblaq, director general of the Coastal Municipalities Water Utility, said.

Farmer Narziq Abu Tair said his 15-member family depends on what he grows on his land. "Winter is ending and summer is coming and there was no rain and there is no alternative to water our lands," the 68-year old said. (Editing by Tom Perry and Elizabeth Fullerton)

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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