Like dozens of other couples who got married this summer in the isolated Gaza Strip, for Saed and Falasteen Abu Aser, their wedding was an elaborately planned celebration, complete with a procession through the streets of their neighborhood.
In a time with little to be joyous about in Gaza, weddings have emerged as welcome festivities that offer a break from the often morose mood in the strip. The coastal territory has faced three wars with Israel over the last decade and a stifling blockade imposed by both Israel and Egypt after the Islamic militant Hamas group violently overran the territory in 2007.
But for the happy couple and their families, a wedding is both a respite from daily hardships and a focal point in the lives of both the well-off and the poor.
"My joy is great among my family and my friends and my neighbors and I thank them because they helped and supported me," said the 22-year-old groom Saed Abu Aser.
His bride, Falasteen, is 17. The Abu Asers are first cousins who come from a poor family. It is not uncommon for cousins to marry in Palestinian society.
Their festivities began days before the wedding ceremony, with a boisterous stag party in which the groom's friends set the dance floor on fire to the tune of a local band while glitter twinkled from their sweaty faces.
On the day of the wedding, the families gathered for a cheerful lunch before the bride and groom got all spruced up for the big night — he in a black suit and she in a white gown and matching cape, her face daubed in white powder.
They held a lavish wedding party at a hall, where they were driven to in a convoy of decorated, honking cars.
All those expenses can add up, but Abu Aser's family took out a loan to pay for what has become an increasingly important milestone for people in Gaza. Other impoverished Gazans ask for donations to pay for their rites of marriage.
Associated Press photographer Khalil Hamra joined the celebrations, and here is a series of his photographs.
See these photos on APImages.com
Text from the AP news story, AP PHOTOS: Weddings cut through gloomy mood in Gaza Strip, by Khalil Hamra.
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