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A small business in war-time Gaza sews padded cloth diapers, creating jobs and helping weary parents

RAFAH, Gaza Strip — Their scissors move quickly, shearing pieces of white cloth to be stitched together with cotton pads and taken to market in battered cardboard boxes.

Before the day is done, the Palestinian seamstresses will have sewn 500 diapers and distributed them to war-weary parents in Gaza for about $4 per package of eight, half of what mass-produced disposable diapers cost in the besieged enclave.

Maysaa Qatati, the manager of the sewing workshop, knows the output will barely make a dent in the huge demand — but the little business is thriving and creating jobs.

“People were looking for pampers and could not find them,” she said from the whirring workshop in Rafah, the southernmost city in Gaza. “They would stand in line at the merchant and buy it at a very high price.”

The war between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers has sparked a humanitarian catastrophe, spawning shortages of the most basic necessities and sending prices of basic goods soaring. The situation has hit parents of young children particularly hard — the going market rate for diapers in Gaza is over 10 times higher than what it was before the war.

Around 1.5 million displaced Palestinians are crammed into apartment buildings and tent camps in this city on the border with Egypt as Israeli warplanes swoop overhead. Israel’s offensive in the strip has killed over 28,600 Palestinians and unleashed a humanitarian catastrophe of unimaginable scale. Israel’s military says Hamas is responsible for civilian casualties and suffering, and that the next target is Rafah.

Sporadic aid deliveries, hobbled by Israeli restrictions and relentless fighting, have compounded an already dire situation. At makeshift street stalls, older children working as hawkers sell individual diapers for 3-5 shekels ($1 to $1.50) or entire packs of 50 for up to 200 shekels ($55).

In some cases, parents say they have resorted to easily soiled cloth diapers. But cleaning those is difficult when water is so scarce. The disposable diapers made in Qatati’s sewing workshop are an improvement because of the cotton pads.

“People cannot provide for their children,” said Imad Abu Arara, who sells the workshop’s diapers at the market. “This factory is an alternative to this problem and is much cheaper.”

The war broke out Oct. 7 in response to the Hamas deadly attack on southern Israel, when the militants killed some 1,200 people and dragged 250 hostages back to Gaza.

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Associated Press reporter Julia Frankel in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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