Jan 14, 2009

World - No room at the graveyard, as Gaza fighting rages on

"We couldn't find anywhere to bury my cousin," Mahmoud al-Zinati said on Tuesday, as he sat on the edge of a tomb in Gaza. "So we've opened the grave of another cousin who was martyred two years ago to bury this one."

"I can't describe my feelings. No one can feel what I am going through," the 23-year-old said as he broke off his digging at the Sheikh Redwan cemetery. "No one can feel how sad I am."

His 16-year-old cousin, killed in an air strike, he says, will rest above another cousin, also killed in violence in the Palestinian enclave two years ago, at the age of 12. In 18 days of war, more than 900 Gazans have died, many of them civilians.

The big Sheikh Redwan graveyard, like others in the city of Gaza, is packed with white stone tombstones and a sign on the wall outside tells families in plain terms: "Cemetery Full".

That is a common problem in Gaza, where the population has trebled in little over a generation. But the instructions to use another site a short distance from the city pose a major problem on this sunny winter's morning -- the new cemetery lies on the far side of the Israeli tank battalions ringing the city.

"We went round the city cemeteries but we couldn't find a place to bury my cousin," Zinati said. "Can you believe this?"

Relatives have had to resort to digging graves themselves since the cemetery has no gravediggers -- because it is supposed to be full -- and they are breaking with Muslim tradition, which dictates against shared tombs, except in times of emergency.

Across the graveyard, another young man, Basil Khair al-Deen, is burying a friend -- in a stranger's grave. He was unable to find space close to a member of the dead man's family.

"We are burying them together and may God accept them," he said.

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