A Palestinian woman and a girl carry flowers to a family grave on Eid at a cemetery in Gaza City on Monday. Photo: Reuters
One of the most joyous days in the Muslim calendar, the holiday of Eid-ul-Fitr was marked by tears and sorrow in the Gaza Strip, left battered by three weeks of merciless Israeli assaults.
Marking the end of the holy month of fasting, Eid is normally a time of feasts and fun, presents and parties, even in this impoverished and isolated Palestinian coastal enclave.
But these are not normal times in Gaza.
"How should a mother feel when she opens her eyes on the day of Eid and does not see her son next to her?" said Abir Shammaly, whose son was killed during heavy Israeli shelling of the Shejaia district in east Gaza last week.
Instead of celebrating with the living, Shammaly sat next to her son's freshly dug grave, joining many other Gazans who were paying their respects to more than 1,000 people, many of them civilians, who have died so far in the fighting.
Her young daughter silently pushed pink and white flowers into the mound of freshly dug earth.
"The world is watching us, but they do not feel for us. Why did they waste the lives of the Palestinian people? Why did they do this to us?" said Shammaly, who also lost her house in the bombardment of Shejaia that Israel says was a Hamas stronghold.
Izzddin Akila knew what he wanted to do on the first day of three-day Eid holiday. But the 35-year-old's wishes - to exchange gifts, visit relatives, and watch the children of the family play games - didn't go as planned.
Holding brown prayer beads and white flowers, he instead spent the first day of the three-day holiday digging a small hole in which to put flowers at the head of his 20-year-old cousin Mohammed's grave.
"You have always been the moonlight and inspiration to your brothers," said Izzddin, sitting beside the grave.
"Come back Mohammed, return to your weeping mother, she has your Eid gift," another cousin cried, as people tried to comfort him.
There wasn't a dry eye at the gravesite.
Mohammed was killed last week when an Israeli tank shell hit his home. He was sitting in the family's living room. The blast also injured his aunt's husband, and eight children. "In one second, an Israel missile ended his short 20 years of life," said Izzddin, unable to hold back tears.
Before he died, Mohammed and his father had opened their home to displaced Palestinians fleeing Israeli bombings in Shujayea. They shared food and drinks with women and children who had been driven out of their homes.
"He hadn't planned his future yet, but was intelligent and keen and had already managed to memorise the whole Quran, verse by verse," Izzddin cried, as his fingers moved across the sand on top of Mohammed's grave.
Though the guns fell largely silent on Monday, with Hamas announcing a 24-hour truce to coincide with the festival, the widespread death and destruction of the last three weeks of violence has made this a sombre Eid, devoid of celebration.
"We should be celebrating Eid with happiness and family love. As usual, our children would enjoy themselves and play together. But the Israeli occupation denied us that right and forced us to take our children to the graveyard, to say goodbye to murdered relatives instead of letting us all celebrate the joy of life," said Izzddin.
The main cemetery in eastern Gaza has also been under heavy Israeli air strikes, making even burials dangerous. As a result, the Akila family had no other option but to bury Mohammed somewhere else.
"We had to dig into the grave of Mohammed's grandfather in order to use his space," Izzddin said, as his brothers wept beside him. "It's like opening up the old wounds of [my] grandfather's body, to lay the newly-wounded body of Mohammed next to him."
While Izzddin and his brother, Khaled, visited the grave, Israeli drones hovered overhead. This cemetery was bombed on Monday by an Israeli F16 missile; bones are now scattered throughout the sand. "Then we had to rush to bury him immediately, under Israel's constant bombing," Izzddin said. "At least Mohammed is warm, with his grandpa."
At 6:30pm on Monday, the graveyard was full of people coming to visit their loved ones, killed during Israel's latest offensive. As the crowds of people tried to comfort each other, Khaled and Izzddin poured water and sand into the grave to remould it, and make sure it stayed intact.
"We cry for those we have loved and lost," Khaled said, "but we say that God is also watching these atrocities [committed] upon innocent people".
The conflagration has forced more than 167,000 Palestinians to seek refugee in the blue-and-white painted schools run by the United Nations agency UNWRA that was set up in 1949 to help Palestinian refugees from Israel's war of independence.
"This is a holiday of seeing people get martyred, of seeing destruction. What holiday is this? Who has the heart to enjoy the holiday?" said an elderly woman, Um Mustafa Jarbou, tears streaming down her face as she sat on a schoolroom floor.
She came from the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya, but, like so many others, had fled ahead of the Israeli advance.
"When we eat food, it tastes like poison. Shame on them. Where is the world? Where is everybody?" she asked, sharing a commonly held view that the outside world, including many fellow Arabs, have turned their back on their plight.
On a normal Eid, the streets of Gaza would be packed with children rushing around showing off crisp new clothes and receiving handfuls of sweets. Celebratory firecrackers would fill the air. On Monday, the roads were largely empty and nerves jangled by countless air strikes could not take fireworks.
Men hugged each other on the street, wishing that "tomorrow may bring a solution". But few saw any solution in sight.
When telephones rang, it wasn't always a relative or friend on the other end passing on Eid greetings.
"Listen Hamas, if you are still alive you should know that if you continue, we will respond, we will respond violently," said a recorded message received by some residents as part of an Israeli campaign to try to persuade Hamas to stop fighting.
At Gaza's largest hospital, a group of youths came to distribute sweets to wounded children, whose small bodies bore the angry red scars of war. Efforts to bring some joy to the packed wards floundered.
"I do not know about Eid. Maybe there is an Eid outside. We are all wounded here," said Inas Ashour, 16, who suffered a head injury during shelling in the eastern Gaza suburb of Zeitoun.
Asked if she was happy, 5-year-old Aya Al-Namla, thought for a while as she lay on her bed. "Yes, before the bombardment."
[Reporting by Reuters, Aljazeera]