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Abdulla al-Radie works on an airless motorcycle tire at his workshop in the Jebaliya refugee camp, Gaza Strip. Image Credit: AP

Gaza - Palestinians in Gaza have coped with shortages of just about everything in more than a decade of border closures - from chocolate to medicines to fuel and building supplies. Now, six months of protests against an Israeli-Egyptian blockade have added an unexpected item to that list: car tyres.

Tyres are a favoured item by demonstrators during the weekly protests - they are set on fire, then tossed towards Israeli occupation troops across the border.

In response, the Israeli regime has halted tyre imports into the strip, sending prices skyrocketing and forcing Gaza motorists to find creative solutions to keep their vehicles on the road.

Taxi driver Khaled Hamad has no spare tyre in his trunk. His tyres are worn down, but he could only afford to change two, replacing them with secondhand ones that aren’t even the standard size recommended by the manufacturer.

“Even when they were cheaper, upgrading my tyres was expensive,” Hamad said as he kicked a bald front tyre that still needs to be changed. “I make 40 shekels (about Dh40) a day these days. Business is down.”

Protesters at the border marches burn old tyres, using the thick black smoke to obscure the vision of Israeli regime snipers. Flaming tyres are also rolled towards the fence.

Ironically, the tyre ban has had no effect on the protesters, who rely on a seemingly endless supply of old ones that are discarded in garages, fields and roadsides across the territory.

Rushdi Al Khour, head of the association of Gaza spare parts merchants, which coordinates imports from Israel, said the tyre shortage has caused severe losses for businessmen.

He said the cost of a pair of tyres has jumped from $120 to $300 since the ban went into effect, a sizable sum in the economically struggling strip.

Fifteen distributors have lost up to $2 million so far, both in tyres they bought from Israeli companies and in storage fees for shipments stuck at Israeli ports, according to Al Khour.

“This is a wrong decision by the Israeli side,” he said of the ban. “Lift the siege and the protests will stop.”

The Hamas-led protests have been fuelled by widespread despair over the difficult conditions created by the blockade. Unemployment is now over 50 per cent, and Gazans get just a few hours of electricity a day.

Israel and Egypt imposed a blockade on Gaza after Hamas took control of the territory in 2007.

After coping with shortages of basic items for over a decade, Gazans have become adept at finding creative solutions.

In the attic of a small workshop in the Jabaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza Strip, Abdullah Al Radie invented a rubbery filling for old motor scooter tyres that he says extend their lifespan.

He recently changed the name of his shop to “Airless Tyres Workshop” and began selling tyres he claims cannot be punctured. To demonstrate, he plunged a knife and nails into a tyre. He refused to say what the filling is made from, but said it involves five materials, including plastic and rubber.

At first, the fillings were produced in pipes, but they affected the balance of the wheels. He says he has improved his creation to make “round moulds that fit the shape of the tyre and sustain weight”.

About 50 tyres were stacked at his shop on a recent day, and he said he sold twice that amount in September. He is now opening a new branch in the southern town of Rafah, where many residents have motorbikes.

“Today we started with motorcycles,” he said. “I hope next we will make them for cars.”

Fadi Diab, who owns a tyre store and repair workshop, said he paid about $20,000 to store nine containers of tyres stranded at an Israeli port.

“The prices have gone up and people don’t have money,” he said. “People come here when changing the tyres is their last option. They want to use the tyres as long as possible.”

Some businessmen managed to bring in three shipments of tyres from Egypt in October, Diab said. That brought some temporary relief, he said, but sales remain low.

Only three new tyres were seen stacked on a shelf in his shop, while dozens of gleaming metal wheels adorned the wall.

“Only those who rely on their cars for income ... replace their tyres these days,” Diab added.

Hamad, the taxi driver, said he’d change his tyres only when prices come down. “I’m afraid these old tyres will keep flattening and affecting my work by delaying me from my customers.”