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A usually joyous Muslim holiday reminds families in Gaza of war's punishing toll

Basima al-Batsh sits with her family ahead of the Eid al-Adha holiday in Deir al Balah, Gaza Strip, Tuesday, June 11, 2024. They were displaced from their home by the war between Israel and Hamas. (AP Photo/Abdel Kareem Hana)

DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — Last summer, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip celebrated the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha the way it's supposed to be: with large family feasts, meat shared with those less fortunate, and new clothes and gifts for children.

But this year, after eight months of devastating war between Israel and Hamas, many families will eat canned food in stifling tents. There's hardly any meat or livestock at local markets, and no money for holiday treats or presents — only war, hunger and misery, with no end in sight.

“There is no Eid this year," said Nadia Hamouda, whose daughter was killed in the war and who fled from her home in northern Gaza months ago and is staying in a tent in the central town of Deir al-Balah. “When we hear the call to prayer, we cry over those we lost and the things we lost, and what has happened to us, and how we used to live before.”

Muslims around the world will celebrate the four-day Eid al-Adha, the Feast of the Sacrifice, early in the week. It commemorates the Prophet Ibrahim's willingness to sacrifice his son, Ismail, as recounted in the Quran. In the Jewish and Christian traditions, Abraham is called to sacrifice his other son, Isaac.

Gaza was impoverished and isolated even before the war, but people still managed to celebrate by hanging up colorful decorations, surprising children with treats and gifts, and purchasing meat or slaughtering livestock to share with those less fortunate.

“It was a real Eid," Hamouda said. “Everyone was happy, including the children.”

Now much of Gaza is in ruins and most of the population of 2.3 million Palestinians have fled their homes. After Hamas' surprise attack into Israel on Oct. 7, in which Palestinian militants killed some 1,200 people and took another 250 hostage, Israel launched a massive air and ground assault.

The war has killed over 37,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza's Health Ministry. It has destroyed most of Gaza's agriculture and food production, leaving people reliant on humanitarian aid that has been held up by Israeli restrictions and the ongoing fighting.

United Nations agencies have warned that over a million people — nearly half the population — could experience the highest level of starvation in the coming weeks.

In early May, Egypt shut down its crossing into the southern Gazan city of Rafah after Israel captured the Palestinian side of it, sealing the only route for people to enter or leave the territory. That means virtually no Palestinians from Gaza will be able to make the annual Hajj pilgrimage that precedes the Eid.

Ashraf Sahwiel, who was among hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who fled from Gaza City earlier in the war and is also living in a tent, has no idea when or if he'll be able to return.

“We don’t even know what happened to our houses or whether we’ll be able to live in them again, or if it’s even possible to rebuild,” he said.

Abdelsattar al-Batsh said he and his family of seven haven’t eaten meat since the war began. A kilogram (2 pounds) of meat costs 200 shekels (around $50). A live sheep, which could be bought for as little as $200 before the war, now costs $1,300 — if it's even available.

“Today, there is only war. No money. No work. Our houses have been destroyed. I have nothing,” al-Batsh said.

Iyad al-Bayouk, who owns a now-shuttered cattle farm in southern Gaza, said severe shortages of both livestock and feed due to Israel’s blockade have driven up prices. Some local farms have been turned into shelters.

Mohammed Abdel Rahim, who has been sheltering in a building in an empty cattle farm in central Gaza for months, said the farm-turned-shelter was particularly bad in the winter, when it smelled like animals and was infested with bugs. As the heat set in, the ground dried out, making it more bearable, he said.

Abdelkarim Motawq, another displaced Palestinian from northern Gaza, used to work in the local meat industry, which did brisk business ahead of the holiday. This year, his family can only afford rice and beans.

“I wish I could work again,” he said. “It was a busy season for me, during which I would bring money home and buy food, clothing, nuts, and meat for my children. But today there’s nothing left.”

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Khaled reported from Cairo.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Gaza at https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war

Abdelsattar al-Batsh stands with his son ahead of the Eid al-Adha holiday in Deir al Balah, Gaza Strip, Tuesday, June 11, 2024. They were displaced from their home by the war between Israel and Hamas. (AP Photo/Abdel Kareem Hana)
Palestinian children play in Khan Younis, Gaza Strip, Monday, June 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Abdel Kareem Hana)
Nadia Hamouda was displaced from her home by the war between Israel and Hamas and has been living with her family in a tent in Deir al Balah, Gaza Strip, Thursday, June 13, 2024. Her daughter was killed in the war. (AP Photo/Abdel Kareem Hana)
Animal pens are empty ahead of the Eid al-Adha holiday in Khan Younis, Gaza Strip, Monday, June 10, 2024. After eight months of devastating war between Israel and Hamas, there's hardly any meat or livestock at local markets. (AP Photo/Abdel Kareem Hana)
A Palestinian child walks through empty animal pens ahead of the Eid al-Adha holiday in Khan Younis, Gaza Strip, Monday, June 10, 2024. After eight months of devastating war between Israel and Hamas, there's hardly any meat or livestock at local markets. (AP Photo/Abdel Kareem Hana)