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Schools and universities in Gaza forced to close due to fuel cuts

April 15, 2008 3:13 P.M. (Updated: April 15, 2008 3:13 P.M.)
Bethlehem - Ma'an - Israel's punitive cuts of fuel supplies have hobbled Gaza's educational system, forcing many schools and universities to close, Palestinian officials said on Tuesday.

Gaza's two most prominent universities, Al-Azhar and the Islamic University, have announced a suspension of classes until Saturday.

In January, the last time Gaza ran out of fuel due to the Israeli blockade, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that Gazans "can walk." Students and educators have been forced to do just that this week.

Without fuel for automobiles, most students and teachers simply cannot get to class. Since Israel cut off fuel supplies completely last Thursday, absenteeism rates have skyrocketed. On Tuesday, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said he would allow renewed shipments of industrial fuel for Gaza's power plant, but would not allow deliveries of petrol or other ordinary fuels.

Al-Kamalain Shaath, the president of the Islamic University, told Reuters that only about 30% of its some 20,000 students had attended class in recent days. Al-Aqsa University also suspended classes until Thursday due to 50% absenteeism among the school's 14,000 students.

Hundreds of students and teachers demonstrated at the United Nations headquarters in Gaza City on Monday, urging the international community to intervene.

Manal, a teacher at the Sheikh Radwan school in Gaza City said, "The continued siege and fuel shortages threaten the whole educational process as teachers and students cannot get to their schools."

"There is no food, medicines or basic commodities," she added, "and life is tough as it is without the fuel cuts. The school year is about to finish and end of year reviews are very important for the students. This siege is making things very difficult."

Samah Doghmosh, a sixth grade student, said, "We cannot complete our studies because of the low numbers of students and teachers who can come to school."

The Palestinian Ministry of education said that fuel cuts have lead to the cancellation of "many activities which need some form of transportation such as sports and arts competitions between schools. Committees formed for preparing the Final Schools exams, especially the Tawjihi exams, have not been able to commute.

Mustafa Barghouthi, the head of the Palestinian National Initiative, said that the ongoing siege of the Gaza Strip is "collective punishment on 1.5 million human beings, whose effects are felt most by the most vulnerable: patients, disabled, elderly and children."

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