Veiled women make Santa dolls in Gaza Strip

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Some 20 young women are employed at the Zeina Cooperative factory in the Palestinian village of Umm al-Nasser, where they have been given three years of vocational training, learning to make gifts for a series of holidays

Some 20 young women are employed at the Zeina Cooperative factory in the Palestinian village of Umm al-Nasser, where they have been given three years of vocational training, learning to make gifts for a series of holidays (AFP Photo/MOHAMMED ABED)

Beit Lahia (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) - The scene on Tuesday morning in the northern Gaza Strip could at first look incongruous -- a group of women in black niqab veils sewing Santa Claus dolls for Christmas.

They work at a small factory in the Palestinian enclave that is providing employment to women, many of whom are forbidden from leaving their village due to conservative values.

Around 20 young women are employed at the factory, which is a project of the Zeina Cooperative in the village of Umm al-Nasser, close to Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza.

They have been given three years of vocational training, learning to make gifts for a series of holidays -- including the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and Christmas, supervisor Asma Abu Qaida told AFP.

This festive season they produced a range of goods, including Santa models and wooden Christmas trees.

Seven of the women have been taught carpentry.

The gifts are wrapped and put in gift boxes marked "Merry Christmas" in Arabic and English.

"We make Christmas gifts with love and precision," Abu Qaida said.

Many of the customers are foreign delegates working in international organisations in the Gaza Strip, she said.

The 6,000-person village is in a conservative part of Gaza, which has been controlled by the Islamist movement Hamas since 2007 and has been under an Israeli blockade for more than a decade.

Many of the women wear the niqab, a type of veil that leaves only the eyes visible.

The programme is an opportunity to work and leave the house, with cultural norms prohibiting them from leaving their village except in emergencies, said Hanin Rizk al-Sammak, Zeina's executive director.

"This gift-making project gives them an opportunity to showcase their abilities."