Gaza restaurants to reopen as lockdown eases

Gaza City (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) –


Restaurants in Gaza were to be allowed to reopen from Monday, the economy ministry in the Hamas-run enclave announced, following pleas from restaurant owners to ease economic suffering.

"It was decided to allow restaurants and cafes in the (Gaza) Strip to reopen their doors to customers starting from today, the ministry said in a statement.

Under the decision based on health ministry recommendations, restaurants must continue to observe social distancing rules, it said.

Since the middle of March, the Hamas government has imposed strict measures to avoid a widespread outbreak of COVID-19.

Schools, universities, mosques and restaurants have been closed.

So far Gaza has recorded only 17 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, all Palestinians returning from outside the Gaza Strip.

Those who contracted the virus have been placed in isolation immediately upon their return.

There are no confirmed cases among Palestinians who stayed inside Gaza, according to Hamas, the Islamist movement that has controlled the coastal enclave since 2007.

Gaza's population is overwhelmingly Muslim and most people are observing the holy month of Ramadan, including fasting from sunrise to sunset before eating large meals with their families.

Salah Abu Haseera, head of the Committee for Restaurants, Hotels and Touristic Services in Gaza, told AFP the ministry's decision "came after an appeal to open restaurants to avoid further losses and a serious recession".

Restaurants reopening could allow some 2,500 people to return to work, he said.

Gaza, blockaded by Israel for 13 years, suffers from poverty rates close to 50 percent.

Israel says the measures are necessary to isolate Hamas, with which it has fought three wars since 2008.

In the West Bank, the largest part of the Palestinian territories but controlled by a rival government, restaurants remain closed.