© The Associated Press / Adel HanaIn this photo taken Friday, July 15, 2011, showing a general vista of Gaza beach and the Mediterranean Sea below the balcony of Gaza Strip's first five-star Arcmed Al Mashtal hotel in Gaza City, which was recently opened. The eight-storey structure is an anomaly in Gaza, where most local people live in poverty and ride donkey-driven carts past the opulent luxury of this hotel which remains mostly unused by tourists who don't seem to be attracted to visit Gaza.
The Gaza Strip's first five-star hotel gleams with marble floors, five luxury restaurants and a breezy cafe overlooking the territory's white sandy beaches and sparkling blue Mediterranean Sea. The only thing missing are guests.
Nearly all of the newly opened hotel's 222 rooms, decked out with ornate metal-worked lamps, flat screen televisions, oversized beds and sea views, sit empty. The tourists whom the developers expected to flood to Gaza when they launched the project 13 years ago are nowhere to be seen. Local residents, most of them living in poverty, can only dream of staying in the gleaming complex.
The eight-story structure is an anomaly in Gaza, yet it cannot escape its surroundings. Residents riding donkey-driven carts occasionally trot by. Women cannot swim in the pool, in a nod to conservative Gaza tradition. There is no alcohol - banned by Hamas in line with Islamic law. On a recent day, two women in conservative Islamic headscarves and loose gowns sipped drinks by the pool, as children splashed inside.
Earlier this month, the hotel's developer, Palestinian investment company Padico decided to finally open it. The company, controlled by politically independent billionaire Munib al-Masri, hopes to recover at least some of its costs and hopes that Gaza's knotty problems may finally be solved in the coming years.
"Its risky - but we need to have a change in Gaza," said public relations manager Shadi Agha.