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    Mass funeral in Gaza draws tears, rare criticism of Hamas

    KHAN YOUNIS, GAZA STRIP (AP) – Thousands of people on Sunday joined the funerals of eight young Palestinian men who drowned off the coast of Tunisia nearly two months ago as they tried to sail to new lives in Europe.

    The drownings have reverberated across Gaza, drawing attention to the dire conditions in the territory after a 15-year Israeli-Egyptian blockade but also prompting some rare public criticism of the ruling Hamas militant group.

    “The government that governs us here is the reason. It’s to blame. It’s to blame,” said Naheel Shaath, whose 21-year-old son Adam was among the dead.

    “I blame all officials here who don’t care for the youth or provide job opportunities for them.”

    Israel and Egypt imposed the blockade after Hamas seized control of Gaza from the internationally recognised Palestinian Authority in 2007. Israel said the closure, which restricts the movement of people and goods in and out of the territory, is needed to prevent Hamas from arming itself.

    Critics said the blockade amounts to collective punishment.

    The blockade has stifled the economy of Gaza, where unemployment hovers near 50 per cent. Families have begun to complain about Hamas’ leadership, citing the high taxes, its heavy-handed rule and a growing stream of leaders, including its supreme leader Ismail Haniyeh, who have moved abroad to more comfortable places with their families. “Our children are drowning in the sea and their children are enjoying luxury. Isn’t this unfair?” Shaath said.

    The eight men who were buried on Sunday were among about two dozen Palestinians who drowned over the past three months en route to Europe

    Palestinians carry the bodies of four Palestinian migrants who died off the Tunisian coast. PHOTO: AP
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