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Gaza bakery buys butter - and a gun

As the Palestinian economy worsens, security becomes a major concern for Gazans.

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Ala al-Ghazali was tending his tire-sized trays of Middle Eastern pastries when a man came into the shop demanding 4-1/2 lbs. of sweets "on credit."

" 'I can't do that,' I said," recalls Mr. Ghazali, who owns the sparkling bakery specializing in baklava and kanafe. "He said, 'You have to.' I said, 'I can't.' He said, 'If you don't, I'll make troubles for you.' "

Frightened, Ghazali gave the desserts away.

Only two weeks later, he says, police came in to tell him they had caught a car of armed men who were planning to rob the store.

"My father recommended that I get a gun, because crime is increasing," says Ghazali, a man in his late 20s, as he gazes out the shop window at young men congregating in the street outside, watching his foreign visitors with great interest.

"Now we go home from work together in groups, for protection," he adds. "We started doing that 10 days ago. That's something new. It's first and foremost because of lack of money, which encourages bad behavior for people who are on the edge."

Living amid a brew of political and economic complications, Gaza seems to be moving closer to the boiling point every day.

Almost 160,000 employees of the Palestinian Authority (PA) have not been paid their salaries since March, due to the cut-off in funding from international donors following the electoral rise of the Islamic militant group Hamas.

Adding even more stress to the fragile economy is the regular closure of the Karni crossing from Israel to Gaza, meaning that exporting and importing goods has become increasingly difficult. The financial strain has also led to a rise in crimes like burglary and robbery - accompanied by an interest in beefing up personal security with guns and gangs.

Rival factions battle for control

Bringing additional layers of tension, the struggle has also ratcheted up between Hamas and Fatah, the secular mainstream faction of the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization).

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