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June 29, 2017

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Gaza refugees tie knot at UN school as truce comes to end

GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories--War destroyed their homes and her big white dress, but Heba and Omar agreed nothing would stand in the way of their future happiness.

So they got married, refugees at a U.N. school in Gaza.

Decked with a cloud of multicolored balloons and echoing with the joyful ululating of women, the school in Gaza City's Shati refugee camp was transformed from a refugee camp into a party hall.

In the final hours before a 72-hour truce between Israel and Hamas, set to expire at midnight (2100 GMT, later extended), the young couple threw misery and mourning to the wind to celebrate their love.

"If somebody told me that I would be getting married in these conditions, I would not have believed them for a second!" said Heba, sitting in a salon in Gaza City the day before, a hairdresser darting around as she rearranged her long, brown hair.

"I had planned everything: the music, the guest list, my dress and my bouquet. And here I am today, I'm getting married in a school with thousands of refugees."

Heba Fayad, 23, and Omar Abu Namar, 30, were due to wed next month in her family home in Beit Lahiya in northern Gaza.

But then the war came, laying waste to their plans.

Heba's family home was destroyed along with the items they bought for married life: dresses, accessories, flowers, everything went up in smoke when Israeli warplanes rained destruction on the tiny enclave, which is home to nearly 1.8 million Palestinians.

With reconstruction set to take years — Israel has blockaded Gaza since 2006 and restricts the entry of construction materials — Heba decided to speed things up rather than wait for her home to be rebuilt.

"If I don't get married today, and in these conditions, then I won't be able to get married for at least three years," she said.

"My house was destroyed, I lost everything."

But UNRWA, the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees and other aid agencies, was keen to give the couple a break from the bloodshed, and chipped in to pay for the marriage and two nights in a hotel for the newlyweds.

Starting a New Life

For Heba, the stay in the hotel is a godsend — the opportunity to get out of the U.N. school in Beit Lahiya where she is staying with 4,000 refugees.

"Over there, I will take a shower every hour, it will be a change from all these days without seeing a drop of water to wash in," she laughed.

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