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Omar Abu Namar, 30, and Heba Fayad, 23, attend their wedding celebration. / Mohammed Saber, European Pressphoto Agency

GAZA CITY - A refugee camp may seem an unlikely place for a big white wedding, but after their homes were destroyed along with the bride's dress, Heba Fayad and Omar Abu Namar decided to tie the knot in their temporary shelter.

With hundreds of singing and dancing family, friends and strangers, the party was much bigger than it would have been had the couple held their wedding in Fayad's home in Beit Lahiya in northern Gaza next month as planned. But love would not wait until her house was rebuilt.

"We have been engaged for a year and a half, but the ongoing war hijacked the moment of our lifetime," said bride Fayad, 23, amid multicolored balloons and Palestinian flags decorating the U.N.-run al-Shati refugee camp.

The couple are not the only ones in Gaza looking to build a new life as a temporary cease-fire appears to be holding in the coastal territory while negotiations for a longer truce continue between Israel and Hamas officials following a monthlong conflict that killed more than 1,900 Palestinians and 67 Israelis.

"We will go nowhere, we are here staying, will live even in a tent," said Abu Nidal of Gaza City. "And one day we are certain that we will go back to our grandfathers' towns and build our homes there."

But the challenges to rebuilding are immense.

The conflict has had a devastating impact on local infrastructure. The United Nations says some 16,800 homes have been destroyed in Gaza, displacing tens of thousands. British organization Disasters Emergency Committee estimates 1.4. million Gazans have little or no access to water or sanitation.

"Lack of water is a big problem," said Hamed Ramadan, a father of five in Gaza City. "We have no electricity, much of Gaza is plunged into darkness. In this hot weather we cannot even find tap water to have a shower."

The economy is also suffering: Unemployment in Gaza is currently at 41%, according to the World Bank. And those who had work may now lose their jobs. A delegation sent by the Palestinian Food Industries Union to visit factories estimated around $150 million worth of damage, with about 250 factories, industrial and construction sites and other properties affected.

"The biggest factories of the (Gaza) Strip - which provided 70% of the local market's needs - were destroyed," said Taysir al-Safadi, union head. "The damaged and destroyed factories will need over a year to be rebuilt, increasing unemployment for the foreseeable future."

Israel started its aerial bombardment of Gaza on July 7 in response to Hamas rocket fire, expanding its operation to a ground assault to neutralize cross-border tunnels it says Hamas uses to carry out attacks. Between July 8 and Aug. 6, the Israeli military says more than 3,000 rockets were fired into Israel. Many Israeli homes and infrastructure also have damaged by the rocket fire, which causes significant psychological stress for Israeli civilians, according to the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

Meanwhile in Gaza, for many entrepreneurs, this is not the first time they will have to rebuild.

"This is the third time they attacked our factory," said Motasem Dallol, whose family cheese factory in Gaza was destroyed. "We only produce cheese, I cannot understand how destroying factories would protect their security?"

Rebuilding Gaza's devastated economy and infrastructure could take years if the blockade, which restricts entry of construction materials and other goods as well as the movement of people, is not lifted, according to Gisha, an Israeli non-governmental organization campaigning for Palestinian freedom of movement and trade.

The ban on construction materials, with limited exceptions for international humanitarian projects, has crippled a sector that once provided 70,000 jobs, Gisha says.

"Ending restrictions on civilian movement is vital for promoting stability and economic security in Gaza," said Gisha Director Eitan Diamond in a press statement. "It brings hope for greater stability and security in the region at large."

Israel and Egypt imposed the air, sea and land blockade in 2007 for security reasons after Hamas took power. It remains a stumbling block in the truce negotiations, with Hamas demanding a complete lifting of the blockade, while Israel says its security needs must be met first.

But life goes on for Gazans, despite the uncertain cycle of destruction and reconstruction. Although newlyweds Namar and Fayad do not have a new home to move into, they remain hopeful and defiant.

"Our wedding today is a message to the world," Namar, 30, said. "We are steadfast and nothing can steal our joy, despite the death and destruction."

Al-Helou reported from London. Contributing: Jennifer Collins from Berlin



Copyright 2014USAToday

Read the original story: Gazans struggle to rebuild as cease-fire holds

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