Gaza Opens First 'Five-Star' Hotel

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- Billions of dollars in foreign aid have been given to the Palestinians over the past two decades. Yet Hamas -- the Palestinian faction controlling the Gaza Strip -- complains they can't get what they need. 

Nonetheless, last month saw the opening of the area's first five-star hotel.

Padico, a Palestinian investment company that managed the project since its inception in 1998, decided the time had come to open for business despite the woefully few tourists who vacation in Gaza. 

Rooms in the luxurious $47 million al-Mashtal hotel feature marble floors, flat-screen TVs, oversized beds and seaside views, The Associated Press reported. Guests can enjoy a lovely outdoor swimming pool, workout facilities and five upscale restaurants.

But despite the luxurious features of the 222-room hotel, there aren't enough guests to fill the 80 rooms that are ready for occupancy. Israeli restrictions on entering the Gaza Strip may factor in to the low number of tourists, but many see Hamas' hard-line "modesty campaign" as the real culprit.

The hotel abides under the watchful eye of the Islamist faction controlling Gaza. There is no alcohol on the premises -- forbidden under Islamic (sharia) law. Women, appropriately covered in Muslim garb, are allowed to sit by the pool, but they aren't allowed to swim in it. Men and children are permitted to use the pool.

In 1998 when construction on the hotel began, Palestinians were hopeful tourists would be coming to Gaza.

But when the second intifada (armed Palestinian uprising) broke out in September 2000, the situation began to deteriorate. The violence would continue for the next four years. Even after that, Hamas had little interest in peaceful coexistence with Israel.

In June 2005, a Hamas-led terror cell tunneled under the border with Israel and attacked an Israeli army outpost near the Kerem Shalom crossing. The terrorists killed two soldiers, wounded three and kidnapped Gilad Shalit, who remains in captivity.

Two months later, the Israeli government under former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon carried out a unilateral withdrawal from the Gush Katif Settlement Bloc in Gaza. Where 21 thriving Jewish communities had stood, rocket launching pads and terror training camps sprang up.

Palestinian rocket fire on southern Israel increased daily.

Two years later, in June 2007, Hamas wrested control of Gaza from the P.A.'s Fatah forces. During the fighting, the hotel sustained heavy damage, with terrorists smashing 180 of its windows. Despite the setback, the project's developers managed to complete construction of the shell the following year.

In December 2008, in response to incessant Palestinian rocket fire from Gaza, Israel initiated a three-week military operation. The hotel sustained further damage from two Israeli missiles.

Despite all the setbacks, Padico pressed ahead and opened for business last month. The company's public relations manager, Shadi Agha, is hoping the situation will improve.

"It's risky, but we need to have a change in Gaza," Agha said.

How that change will come about under the Hamas regime remains to be seen. Meanwhile, for those who want to take advantage of it, there's a five-star hotel awaiting them in the Gaza Strip.

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AP contributed to this report.

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