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Painters bring new life to hard-hit areas in Gaza

The Shati refugee camp, where 87,000 people live in half a square kilometer and among the coastal strip’s poorest areas, gets cleaned, painted by volunteer artists

  • In this Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015 photo, a Palestinian boy sits atop a wall with an elephant painting in the Shati refugee camp in Gaza City. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)
    In this Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015 photo, a Palestinian boy sits atop a wall with an elephant painting in the Shati refugee camp in Gaza City. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)
  • In this Saturday Dec. 19, 2015 photo, a Palestinian boy drinks a soda by the painted house wall in the Shati refugee camp in Gaza City. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)
    In this Saturday Dec. 19, 2015 photo, a Palestinian boy drinks a soda by the painted house wall in the Shati refugee camp in Gaza City. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)
  • In this Saturday Dec. 19, 2015 photo, a Palestinian boy hangs on a door of his home that was painted by artists in the Shati refugee camp in Gaza City. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)
    In this Saturday Dec. 19, 2015 photo, a Palestinian boy hangs on a door of his home that was painted by artists in the Shati refugee camp in Gaza City. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)
  • In this Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015 photo, Palestinian children stand in a doorway of their home painted by artists in the Shati refugee camp in Gaza City. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)
    In this Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015 photo, Palestinian children stand in a doorway of their home painted by artists in the Shati refugee camp in Gaza City. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)
  • In this Saturday Dec. 19, 2015 photo, a Palestinian boy climbs on a painted wall in the Shati refugee camp in Gaza City. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)
    In this Saturday Dec. 19, 2015 photo, a Palestinian boy climbs on a painted wall in the Shati refugee camp in Gaza City. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)
  • Palestinian boys running by a painted house in the Shati refugee camp in Gaza City on December 19, 2015. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)
    Palestinian boys running by a painted house in the Shati refugee camp in Gaza City on December 19, 2015. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)
  • In this Saturday Dec. 19, 2015 photo, a Palestinian boy runs by a painted house in the Shati Refugee Camp in Gaza City. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)
    In this Saturday Dec. 19, 2015 photo, a Palestinian boy runs by a painted house in the Shati Refugee Camp in Gaza City. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)
  • In this Saturday Dec. 19, 2015 photo, Palestinians walk past a painted house in the Shati refugee camp in Gaza City. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)
    In this Saturday Dec. 19, 2015 photo, Palestinians walk past a painted house in the Shati refugee camp in Gaza City. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)
  • In this Saturday, Dec. 19, 2015 photo, a Palestinian woman hangs laundry in front of her painted house in the Shati Refugee Camp in Gaza City. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)
    In this Saturday, Dec. 19, 2015 photo, a Palestinian woman hangs laundry in front of her painted house in the Shati Refugee Camp in Gaza City. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The Shati refugee camp in Gaza City has always been a symbol of poverty, a grey concrete jungle with 87,000 people packed into half a square kilometer, or about one fifth of a square mile.

But now, overlooking the sewage-contaminated Mediterranean beachfront, the camp’s houses are covered in vibrant colors.

About two dozen artists have painted the walls, doorsteps and facades of all the houses along a 1.5 kilometer-long (mile-long) edge, including in the area where Hamas chief Ismail Haniya lives.

Gaza has not been a colorful place to live in recent years. The Islamic militant Hamas group conquered the seaside territory by force in 2007 and has since fought three major wars with Israel, the deadliest and most destructive of them in the summer of 2014.

Gaza suffered heavy damage in the fighting, and most of what was destroyed has not been rebuilt. An Israeli and Egyptian blockade of the territory, a bitter rift between rival Palestinian factions and a failure by international donors to deliver on promised pledges of aid money have compounded the crisis.

The painting campaign was funded by Palestinian investment company Padico. It is the latest and largest of four similar initiatives to color Gaza’s neighborhoods ravaged by last year’s war. Artists said the effort was inspired by similar projects in Mexico and Venezuela.

“It’s a voluntary work to bring joy and happiness for our families and children in the Shati camp,” said Mohammed Dahman, a painter who worked for a month on the project.

The artists drew flowers on the pastel yellow, pink and purple walls, used recycled wood to create slanted window frames, and converted old tires into flower pots. On one wall, they drew an elephant with its back as high as the wall. When children sit atop the wall, they appear as if they are riding the elephant.

“They cleaned the camp. I came here and they were coloring, and I was like, ‘What’s this?’ I did not recognize the area,” said Karam Abdel-Bari, an unemployed camp resident.

Here is a gallery of images by AP Photographer Hatem Moussa of the Shati refugee camp.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press.

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