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Rooftop restaurant thrives despite war

By Associated Press in Gaza City, Gaza Strip | China Daily | Updated: 2015-04-27 07:51

When nightfall descends upon Gaza, the glittering lights of the Level Up restaurant seem to be the only bright spot in this darkened city.

In a territory plagued by chronic power outages, poverty and shortages of construction materials, the restaurant defies all the rules: It's well-lit, thanks to a humming generator. The tables are crowded and hard to come by, and it is one of the few places to relax in Gaza.

"People seem to like this place," said Basil Eleiwa, the restaurant's manager.

The story of Level Up is in many ways the story of Gaza. It's located in a high-rise complex that symbolized the short-lived hopes for prosperity in the crowded seaside territory two decades ago. It has been affected by the rule of the Hamas militant group, experienced the horrors of war, yet somehow manages to plod along in difficult circumstances.

The restaurant opened just days before last year's war with Israel broke out on July 8. At first, it suffered only minor damage. But about three weeks into the fighting, owner Mohammed Abu Mathkour said he received a phone call from the Israeli army.

An Israeli intelligence officer told him that Hamas maintained a communications antenna on the roof of the building and that he had a few hours to take it down.

"I told them I cannot take it down without permission from the Hamas Interior Ministry," he explained. Knowing what lay ahead, he rushed home to avoid the likely Israeli attack. The next day, Israeli tank shells hit the upper floors of the building. Level Up's kitchen was severely damaged.

The Israeli officer called him back, and Abu Mathkour said they had the same argument about the antenna. The 56-year-old, the owner of one of the largest construction firms in Gaza, vowed to rebuild the damage.

In the following days, the building absorbed two more rounds of shelling, Abu Mathkour said.

When the Israeli officer called again, Abu Mathkour said he told him: "I promise you to open it 10 days after the war stops."

The Israeli military said the strikes on the Level Up building were being reviewed. A military official said the building had been a "hub of terror activity". Abu Mathkour denies the allegations.

The war ended on Aug 26, and Level Up reopened on Sept 10.

These days, reservations must be made well ahead of time to get a table. The cafe and restaurant are packed.

"We see the sea from here and see all Gaza. It's open, not dark," said Sami Abu Haloub, a 34-year-old engineer.


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