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Under heavy Israeli bombardment for 6 days, Gazans need courage, ingenuity to watch World Cup

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GAZA, Palestine - Hundreds of millions of football fans watched Sunday's World Cup final by simply getting comfortable in front of their TV sets. In the Gaza Strip, under Israeli bombardment for six days, fans needed ingenuity and courage to witness Germany's 1-0 win over Argentina.

Since the Israeli offensive against Gaza's ruling Hamas began, the streets of the territory have been deserted after nightfall, with the loud thuds of intermittent bombings heard across wide areas. Compounding the hardships, rolling power cuts have plagued Gaza for several years, leaving hundreds of thousands at a given time without electricity.

Salah Yousef, a 19-year-old Argentina supporter, said he walked to his uncle's house, about 20 minutes away, to watch the game because his own home didn't have electricity.

"I was scared when I walked," Yousef said. "My mother was on the phone talking to me until I reached their home."

Yousef said doing something normal, such as watching football, is a show of defiance.

"This means we don't fear the Israeli threats and fire,'" he said, speaking by phone from his uncle's house where he and seven relatives watched the game.

Close to 170 Palestinians have been killed and more than 1,100 have been wounded in more than 1,300 Israeli airstrikes since the start of the bombardment, some of them targeting homes of senior Hamas activists in crowded residential neighbourhoods. Israel says the bombing campaign is meant to diminish Hamas' ability to fire rockets at Israeli communities.

Israel says Gaza militants have fired more than 800 rockets at Israel over the past six days.

During the World Cup final, sirens warning of rocket fire wailed in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, near Gaza, sending residents running to bomb shelters. The army said seven rockets were fired at Ashkelon during the game, but were all intercepted by Israel's anti-missile shield.

In nearby Or Haner, a Kibbutz near the Gaza border home to many expat Argentinians, members watched the game in their own homes with bomb shelters nearby instead of communally due to security warnings of too many convening together in one place.

"We want Messi not missiles," Gerardo Salom, an Argentina fan said.

In Gaza, many watched games in outdoor coffee shops and seaside hotels during the last World Cup. In contrast, an Israeli missile hit a beachside cafe last week as patrons watched the Argentina-Netherlands semifinal, killing nine people aged from 15 to 28.

Raed Lafi, a local journalist, watched the game on his cellphone with his six children crowding around him because the power in his home was out.

He said he watched the last World Cup on a large screen in an outdoor cafe, but preferred to stay at home this time.

"I live in a very dangerous area, surrounded by (Hamas) security compounds'" that might be targeted by Israel, he said.

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Associated Press writers Ibrahim Barzak in Amman, Jordan, and Ian Deitch in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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