Hints of high life sprout in poverty-stricken Gaza
By Crispian Balmer
GAZA (Reuters) - Amidst the poverty and deprivation of the Gaza Strip, a few small signs of prosperity have started to emerge, giving violence-weary locals a taste of comfort that is taken for granted in much the rest of the world.
A smart hotel which aspires to five-star service, a shopping outlet that boasts Gaza's first in-store escalator and a sparkling supermarket stocked to the rafters have all opened their doors this summer in the Palestinian enclave.
Their appearance does not mean that wealth and well-being are spreading in the tiny territory, because they are not. But they indicate a fresh willingness by outsiders to invest in Gaza and eye future potential.
"I have heard about this from my friends and today is my first visit. It is amazing," said Ali Mohammed, 45, a telephone technician who had come to buy chocolates at the central Al-Andalusia store, which is spread out over three floors.
"It is as if we were not in Gaza. The blockade is everywhere to be seen out there, but not in here."
Israel has imposed a strict blockade on Gaza in response to repeated rocket attacks from Islamist militants over the past six years. However, some of the restrictions have eased over the last 12 months, allowing Al-Andalusia to come to life.
A group of Palestinian businessmen, many educated abroad, have hooked up with foreign investors to put $4 million into the enterprise, using their contacts to help fill the shop with merchandise from around the Middle East.
Some is imported legitimately through Israel, other goods come via the smuggling tunnels that link Gaza to Egypt, giving shoppers an unusual amount of choice all under one roof. Continued...