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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Palestinians Feel the Pain of Israeli Siege

JABALIA REFUGEE CAMP, Gaza -- Ahmad al-Sefy kneels on the dirty floor of his one-room store, trying to save his dying business.

As children play in the piles of garbage and broken concrete just outside, he sews the lining of a blue quilt made with cotton scavenged from old blankets. Dusty quilts hang from the walls of the store, which looks like an old garage and has a tin roof held together by branches and string.

With 95 percent of his business coming from exports to Israel, al-Sefy has sold nothing since the Israelis closed the Gaza Strip Feb. 25, after the first of a wave of Palestinian suicide bombings killed 58 people. Customers are even taking back their down payments.

Asked what he'll do when his family's meager savings runs out in a few days, al-Sefy smiles. "I'll probably become a suicide bomber," he says gently.

His two friends sitting nearby laugh. But the mood darkens when they realize he isn't joking.

"Believe me, this is why people do it," says al-Sefy, 25, a polite man with curly black hair and a pleasant smile who has spent his life in this camp where 85,000 Palestinians live in one square mile of cramped poverty. "These closures are killing people. We are desperate. If I killed myself, of course, I'd have to take other people with me."

A few hours after al-Sefy spoke Saturday, Israel slightly eased its closure of Palestinian-ruled Gaza, saying some goods could be brought out this week in convoys guarded by Israeli soldiers.

But any moves, made by an Israeli government under intense worldwide humanitarian pressure, are unlikely to mollify the nearly 2 million Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank who are still forbidden from entering Israel -- the closure has driven unemployment to 60 percent in Gaza, the Palestinian Authority said Sunday. About 60,000 depend on jobs across the border, and they say the lockout has left them short of food, money and medicines.

In seven cases, Palestinians say, the closure even contributed to the deaths of seriously ill people held up at Israeli checkpoints, including a mother who says her newborn twins died in the car because soldiers blocked them from getting to a hospital.

Prime Minister Shimon Peres Sunday called for an international fund to help create jobs for Palestinians -- to replace those lost to a closure that would continue indefinitely.

"There can be no choice but to continue the closure," Peres said.

And Police Minister Moshe Shahal said hi-tech equipment donated by the United States in the bombings' wake would be used to separate Jerusalem from the West Bank. But, he said, "This is not going to be Berlin. We are not going to build walls or fences."