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Palestinian children from Gaza visit Jerusalem for first time ever

Aug. 21, 2017 11:53 A.M. (Updated: Aug. 21, 2017 3:47 P.M.)
(File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- A group of Palestinian children from the besieged Gaza Strip travelled to occupied East Jerusalem on Sunday for the first time ever as part of a project organized by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

According to an UNRWA spokesperson, the trip was part of an UNRWA summer exchange program between Palestinian children from Gaza and the occupied West Bank “for each group to see the other part of Palestine.”

Scott Anderson, Director of UNRWA Operations in the West Bank, told Ma'an that for all the children coming from Gaza, it was their first time ever in Jerusalem.

91 children, all aged 14 from, Gaza made the trip, where they visited the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of East Jerusalem.

For 84 of the children, the trip was the first time they had ever stepped foot outside Gaza, which has suffered under a crippling Israeli land, sea, and air blockade for 10 years.

“They were over-the-moon excited,” Anderson told Ma'an, adding that many of the children told him "it was like living a dream."

The children, who are accompanied by nine chaperones from Gaza, made their way to Ramallah in the central West Bank on Sunday evening, where they will be staying for the rest of the week.

The trip marked a rare travel opportunity for the children, as the decade-long Israeli siege, which has been upheld by Egypt, makes travel outside of the coastal enclave an infrequent luxury.

As access to the Egyptian-controlled Rafah border remains infrequent and unpredictable, many Palestinians in Gaza depend on the Israeli-controlled Erez crossing to exit the besieged territory. 

However, the number of Israeli exit permits granted to Palestinians from Gaza has dropped “dramatically,” Israeli NGO Gisha noted earlier this month, with the number of permits given monthly by Israel dropping to just half the amount issued in 2016.

The decade-long Israeli blockade has plunged the Gaza Strip’s two million Palestinians into extreme poverty and one of the highest unemployment rates in the world.

In 2012, the UN warned that Gaza could become uninhabitable by 2020 if current trends were not altered. However, in a report released in July, the UN said that “life for the average Palestinian in Gaza is getting more and more wretched,” adding that, for the majority of Gaza's residents, the territory may already be unlivable.

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