Palestinian policeman Jihad Ahmed poses for a picture with his bride Alaa while both wear masks due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. AFP/Said Khatib
GAZA CITY - To the sound of drums and flutes, a freshly coiffed Palestinian groom dances with his brothers, cousins and friends, anxiously waiting for his veiled bride to arrive in her shimmering gown.
It might have been a normal Gaza wedding, except for the venue -- not a luxurious seaside hall, but a narrow alley in the Al-Rimal neighbourhood of Gaza City.
Welcome to Gaza's new pandemic-era weddings: they are small because of strict crowd limits, they are held outdoors, and they finish early to beat the curfews.
And they are a whole lot cheaper than usual.
Weddings in the Palestinian coastal enclave are usually extravagant affairs, held in large halls that dot the Mediterranean coastline.
Despite staggering poverty and unemployment rates of around 50 percent even before the pandemic, many Gazans spend several thousand dollars on weddings.
This year the virus has further impacted the economy in the strip, which has been under Israeli blockade since 2007, and is currently spreading rapidly across Gaza.
In recent weeks infections have multiplied and "the situation is getting out of control," warned Doctor Ahmad al-Jadba of Gaza City's Shifa hospital.
To contain the spread of coronavirus, the Islamist group Hamas that runs the strip, like authorities elsewhere, has banned large indoor gatherings.
Families have been forced to hold smaller weddings in less-than-fairytale settings -- like alleys and backyards -- but saved bundles in the process.