ABU DHABI, DUBAI // Friends and families spent a day together in reflection as they welcomed the new year across the nation yesterday. The thoughts of many of those marking New Year were fixed on Gaza, and the lives lost in the Israeli attacks. A number of those out and about yesterday had chosen not to celebrate New Year's Eve out of respect for those suffering in the Palestinian territory. For many in Abu Dhabi and Dubai yesterday, 2009 offered the opportunity to start afresh and seek new hope in times of conflict and financial crisis.
Andreis, 26, an Emirati, began the day early with exercise and study, then joined his friends for breakfast to discuss plans at Firenze cafe in Abu Dhabi. "We want to start a fitness club together," Andreis said, pointing at his South African friend, Jodi-Leigh Mallett, 28. "We wish for peace and that Obama will do something," Andreis said. "We have sad feelings about Gaza, but what can we do other than donate money through Red Crescent?"
Ms Mallet said: "New Year is all about new experiences and dreams. I plan to travel around the world and stop smoking." Their friend Alexis, 23, a cabin-crew member for Etihad, said her goal was to become a professional salsa dancer by next year. John Botros, 35, an Egyptian financial consultant, said: "We did not celebrate New Year's Eve, so today we are having lunch to compensate for last night."
Mr Botros said the new year provided an opportunity for resolution in Gaza. "Both sides should agree to start a new page, to erase the black present and future." Isra Zayed, a psychologist from Jordan who was taking a stroll on the Corniche, was pleased that Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, had cancelled New Year's Eve celebrations in the emirate in sympathy for the people of Gaza.
"We hope 2009 will be better than the last year. We are praying for our sisters and brothers who died and the ones who still live in Gaza. It was very nice of him, Sheikh Mohammed, what he did about last night. "It showed how much he cared. We are all part of the family over there. He was obviously feeling very sad and had a lot of sympathy." Rani Musurat, a designer, said: "I think it was an excellent idea to cancel New Year's parties because the public needs to be made aware of suffering in Gaza.