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Gaza jobs meltdown: an ice-cream firm's tale

Some 68,000 jobs have been lost since Hamas's takeover spurred an Israeli blockade of the struggling area.

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When the mercury soars and the cloying humidity of the Mediterranean coast makes heading outside a shirt-drenching ordeal, Mazen Masri is usually one of the few Gazans wearing a smile.

But today, Mr. Masri casts a dejected look around his mostly idle ice-cream factory. "This should be the best time of our year," he says. "But I go into the factory and my heart almost breaks."

The Al-Arusa Ice Cream Factory is one of Gaza's oldest industrial-scale businesses. But its prospects are melting under an Israeli economic blockade that has denied it access to its main market, the West Bank, and to the dairy products and chocolate needed to churn out ice-cream sandwiches and Popsicles.

The woes of Al-Arusa are being replicated across dozens of businesses in Gaza, destroying jobs in a society where 80 percent of residents rely on foreign aid. The US and Israel hope that economic pain will translate into frustration with Gaza's governing Islamist Hamas – which the two countries consider a terrorist group – and kill its political support.

Whether that will happen is uncertain. But for now, the policy is increasing anger at Israel and the US among an already radicalized population and feeding the poverty that some analysts say contributed to the rise of Hamas, which took full control of the territory in June after a brief battle with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah Party.

A business class with generations of ties to Israel is also feeling increasingly powerless. "The Israeli policy is to add to our suffering," says Akram Mushtaha, a recently laid off Arusa employee who has stopped by to see about a loan. "They want Hamas to change? They want Fatah to change? Well, they aren't punishing them. They're punishing me."

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