New Gaza leisure projects focus on fun not hardship

Mon Aug 2, 2010 2:29pm EDT
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By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA (Reuters) - New leisure projects and restaurants have been springing up in the Gaza Strip, some partially funded by Hamas Islamists ruling a territory long seen as a symbol of Palestinian hardship.

The construction boom in recreational facilities has prompted some Palestinians in the enclave to complain that Hamas should have channeled such investment into rebuilding homes and infrastructure destroyed in conflict with Israel.

Some 800 visitors a day flock to Al-Bustan, a resort built by a Hamas-linked charity, to enjoy its swimming pools, restaurants and cafes.

In keeping with strict Muslim tradition, women are veiled and non-Islamic songs are not on the playlist of music blaring from loudspeakers.

"The atmosphere is Islamic. It's a place where you feel relaxed," said Umm Gaafar, wearing head-to-toe black garb and a veil.

It's a different scene at Crazy Water Park.

Secular music echoes across its three swimming pools and men and women smoke water pipes around tables placed under umbrellas made of palm branches.

With Gaza unemployment estimated by the United Nations at more than 40 percent, and by local economists at 60 percent, most of the crowd at Crazy Water are relatively well-paid professionals and employees of foreign aid organizations.   Continued...

<p>Palestinian children play in a pool at Crazy Water Park in Gaza City August 2, 2010. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa</p>