Gaza clothing workshop reborn from the rubble to provide jobs

KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip (Reuters) - In an upstairs room behind the shattered walls of a Gaza building, sewing machines whir as men work at crowded tables - a Palestinian businessman's effort to aid the enclave's economy after nine months of Israeli bombardment.

Nearly all of the Gaza Strip's 2.3 million inhabitants have lost their homes, and shops, markets and factories have been reduced to rubble by the Israeli military campaign launched in response to the Oct. 7, 2023, Hamas attack on Israel.

Gaza's desperate people, who are mostly now living in tents or crammed into communal shelters, struggle to afford the little food and other goods available in street markets set up among the ruins.

"I opened this factory for the displaced, so they can work and so I can create work for (them)," said Omar Samer Shaat, whose previous factory in Rafah in southern Gaza was destroyed by an Israeli bombardment.

Salvaging machinery, fabric, thread and other materials from the rubble of the factory, he used them to start the new workshop in nearby Khan Younis and offered jobs to tailors who had been displaced by the fighting.

Shaat estimates his economic losses due to the war at $6 million.

Inside the factory, men work at tables with lightbulbs strung from the ceiling. Clothes are laid out carefully on the floor, with scissors and balls of thread close at hand.

With Israel imposing a tight siege on Gaza at the start of the conflict and only allowing in some humanitarian supplies, ordinary goods such as clothes are in short supply.

"The border crossings have been shut for some time. Ready made clothes do not enter. Neither does fabric or anything. We decided to open this factory in this shelled house so it can produce for the people," Shaat said.

Sami Hassouna, one of the tailors in Shaat's workshop, said he had been forced to leave his home and was sheltering in the area near Al-Aqsa University about an hour away.

"We retrieved the machinery, fabric and needles, all of that, we retrieved them from under the rubble," he said.

"But we need continuity and this needs the entry of new raw material," he added.

(Reporting by Hatem Khaled; Writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by Helen Popper)