File - A boy picks flowers in front of the destroyed main gate of Gaza Strips’ former international airport in Rafah.
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Standing in front of the crumbling control tower of Gaza's devastated airport, onetime air traffic controller Anis Arafat dreams of the day planes will land and take off here again.Reopening this airport, closed since 2001, and ending Gaza's isolation is a key demand of the Islamist Hamas movement and was at the heart of the 50-day Gaza-Israel conflict that ended with a cease-fire last week. For employees like Wassim al-Akhras, who worked in the control tower with Arafat, the reopening of the airport can't come soon enough.The airport was built with funding from the international community and symbolically inaugurated in 1998 by then-U.S. President Bill Clinton and the late Palestinian leader Arafat.Israeli forces hit the airport's radar tower in 2001 during the second intifada, when Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza launched an uprising against the Israeli occupation, forcing it to stop work.Even after the airport closed, Arafat kept working at the facility until 2004, doing training courses for the airport authority before eventually going to work for Gaza's Transport Ministry.
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