oPt: Feature - Gaza pupils dread cold winter in caravan school

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By Nidal al-Mughrabi

RAFAH, Gaza Strip, Oct 27 (Reuters) - Palestinian pupil Mariam al-Habbash is worried about the prospect of spending yet another cold winter semester in a cluster of rusty caravans that make up her school in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

"In summer we melt inside the caravans and in winter it is cold and the ceiling leaks," said the veiled 15-year-old.

Habbash's school is located in the village of Mawasi that neighbours the city of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip and overlooks the border with Egypt.

Teachers and students at the school blamed Palestinian leaders for failing to make good on promises to build concrete classrooms and said a stifling Israeli blockade imposed on the impoverished territory two years ago made things worse.

Israel imposed a siege on the Gaza Strip after Hamas won a parliamentary election in 2006. The Jewish state tightened the blockade a year ago when Hamas seized control of Gaza after routing Fatah forces loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas.

Human rights groups and the United Nations have urged Israel to lift the restrictions, citing worsening economic conditions and endemic poverty.

Under a truce brokered by Egypt in June, Israel has been gradually easing the blockade by allowing more supplies to enter the coastal enclave through the border crossings controlled by the Israeli army.

"Many people visit us but the visits are useless," Habbash said. "This is the only caravans school in Palestine."


Some 450 students attend the school whose all-boys and all-girls sections are separated by barbed wire. Boys play soccer in schoolyard that turns into a muddy swamp in winter.

"The school is a tragedy... there is no proper class environment and that has a negative effect on the children," teacher Samir Ashour said from a caravan that serves as a teacher's room. Another caravan serves as a library.

"There is no place to escape the heat and in winter when it rains students and teachers can't communicate because of the noise made by the falling rain," said Ashour.

Pupil Niveen Farhat said she feared the rusty metal ceiling could one day "fall on our heads."

"We want a school like all schools and not a school of caravans."

(Writing by Nidal al-Mughrabi, Editing by Joseph Nasr and Samia Nakhoul)

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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