GAZA - It's not going to be a very merry Christmas this year for a handicraft workshop in Islamist-run Gaza that has been an unlikely source of gifts for the holiday. Coronavirus lockdowns have made it difficult for the Zeina Cooperative Association to export its hand-crafted Christmas gifts from Gaza to Europe and to the Palestinian town of Bethlehem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. About 24 Palestinian Muslim women, many of them veiled, work at the facility, making miniature Christmas trees, red-and-white puppets and Santa Claus marionettes. But sales are down by half after a holiday boom a year ago, scuppering expansion plans and changing business strategy. "We have turned from an international market to a local market," said Haneen Alsammak, executive manager of the cooperative, which aims to empower women in the Gaza Strip. In addition to Christmas-themed toys and puppets, it also offers gifts to match Muslim holidays. Some of its puppets are used for educating children about the pandemic and to promote non-violence in the community. "We have tried to make changes to some of our products to adjust to the current situation we are living amid the coronavirus (outbreak)," she added. But with sales down, "the girls come in once every two days", said Laila Tayeh, a product designer. Gaza has logged nearly 22,000 coronavirus cases and 118 deaths, mostly since August, amid concern of a wider outbreak in the densely populated enclave of 2 million people, many of them poor. Some 1,000 Christians, mostly Greek Orthodox who celebrate Christmas in January, live in Gaza, which is run by the Islamist Hamas movement. REUTERS
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