Israel-Palestine war: In Gaza, people replace cars with animal-drawn carts amid absence of fuel
Just a few weeks ago, carts drawn by donkeys and horses were a rare sight in the Gaza Strip.
Sellers of produce and other products would roam the streets, usually teeming with cars, in search of customers.
But as the Israeli military wreaked destruction across Gaza and besieged an already blockaded territory, a suffocating lack of fuel has made it impossible for people to move around the strip in their cars.
People have suddenly found themselves forced to rely on animal-led carts as the main means of transport.
On one of the usually busier streets of Deir al-Balah, in the central Gaza Strip, cars are rarely spotted. Instead, dozens of carts are seen carrying residents and displaced people.
Since the start of its large-scale war, Israel has cut fuel and gas supplies to the enclave, rendering the vast majority of cars unusable in the seventh week of the attack.
"Day after day, more car owners run out of fuel and cannot find any other means of transportation. These carts are dragged by animals; since they do not need fuel nor gas, this has become an important way for us to overcome the current situation," Abu Mohammed Azaiza, an owner of a cart and a horse, told Middle East Eye.
"Prior to the war, we practically only used carts to roam the neighbourhood and sell vegetables, fruits and certain products. Today, people need them as a means of transportation since we have reached a point where no taxis are available, and car owners cannot find fuel."
The 34-year-old resident of the central Gaza Strip says that in the past couple of weeks, he has made profits larger than that of the past four years.
"I am not happy with the profit, and if I was given the choice to give up all the money I made to stop the war I would choose to give it up," Azaiza said.
Azaiza recalled past fuel crises caused by Israeli wars, especially in 2009 and 2014, and border closures, but, he says, the situation had rarely reached the point where there were almost no cars on the streets.
"I believe that this time is the hardest because it has been more than 40 days now and no one knows how long the situation will last, not even the occupation force [Israel] knows," he said.
Prior to the attack, carts were considered a local means of transportation that only the very poor and marginalised used. Today, all segments of the society are relying mainly on them.
"I took a doctor to the hospital on my cart two weeks ago. He told me that he hadp0a car that he used during the first three weeks of the war, before he ran out of fuel and could not find it anywhere," Azaiza said.
"He needed to move between the hospital and his house every couple of days, so he could not find any way other than the carts."
While the residents of the northern Gaza Strip and Gaza City cannot leave their homes as Israeli tanks have besieged the main and most vital roads, those in the central and southern Gaza Strip can still move between the two areas, under high risk of being targeted by military aircraft or gunboats.
The Souq, or market area, in Deir al-Balah is overcrowded during the day, mostly with displaced people who had fled their homes in Gaza City without bringing their clothes, blankets or the food they had stocked up on at the start of the bombing campaign.
To buy the essentials from the Souq, people from different areas of the central Gaza Strip come by "cart taxis".
"I have never got on a cart in my life before, and the idea of moving around in a cart dragged by a donkey was funny at first, but now I have taken a cart taxi several times since we arrived in Deir al-Balah," Mona Aklouk, a displaced resident of Gaza City, told MEE.
"Otherwise, we would have to walk very long distances to buy daily essentials. Around two or three weeks ago, it was not that common to see this number of carts roaming the streets as a means of transportation. So I used to walk around five kilometres every day to reach the vegetable market."
'Fuel as a weapon of war'
Since the first week of the Israeli offensive, all gas and fuel stations around the Gaza Strip have been shut down.
Israel has banned the entry of fuel from Egypt and threatened to target any fuel or aid trucks entering the strip through the Rafah border crossing without its prior approval.
In addition to causing a transportation crisis and impeding the work of aid agencies in the devastated strip, the ban of fuel eventually led to a crisis affecting all aspects of the residents' daily life.
After running out of cooking gas, the majority of residents now rely on coal and wood to make fire for cooking.
"Everything has changed in our daily life activities. We left our homes and left everything normal with them. I have cooking gas at my home in Gaza City, but who can return and bring it now?" Aklouk said. "The tanks are encircling our neighbourhood."
"We have forgotten how easy our life was compared to now. While the world takes cars for granted, we cannot find any means of transportation but carts, and instead of cooking gas, we are now cooking on wood and coal."
On Wednesday, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (Unrwa) said it received 23,027 litres of fuel from Egypt under tight restrictions imposed by the Israeli authorities.
The amount would be solely used to transfer aid from Rafah to other areas in Gaza, Unrwa said.
The UN agency added that the amount represented around nine percent only of its daily needs to continue its life-saving activities in the Gaza Strip.
"The use of fuel as a weapon of war must stop immediately," it said.