Several Palestinian factions on Saturday called on Hamas to withdraw its security forces from the streets and main squares and to release Palestinians who were arrested for protesting high prices and taxes in the Gaza Strip.
The appeal came after protesters on Friday again clashed with Hamas security forces in different parts of the Gaza Strip.
The protests, which are being held under the banner “We Want to Live!” are being organized by youth movements and several Palestinian groups opposed to Hamas’s rule over the Gaza Strip. The widespread protests are seen as a major challenge to Hamas, which violently seized control of the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2007.
The protesters are demanding that Hamas rescind its decision to impose new taxes, the high rate of unemployment and the continued shortage of electricity supply. Most of the protests are taking place in Jabalya, Deir al-Balah, Khan Yunis, Nuseirat and Al-Bureij.
Sources in the Gaza Strip said that a 32-year-old Palestinian man set himself on fire in protest against the economic crisis. They said that the incident took place in the Faloujeh area in Jabalya in the northern Gaza Strip. The man, whose identity was not immediately released, was taken to hospital for medical treatment. This report was not confirmed.
On Saturday, Hamas supporters took to the streets to protest against Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The protesters said that Abbas was responsible for the economic crisis because of the sanctions he imposed in 2017 against the Gaza Strip, which include cutting salaries to thousands of Palestinian employees and poor families.
A Hamas spokesman said that Abbas’s sanctions constituted a “political, national and moral crime” against the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
In the past few days, Hamas security officers have used force to disperse hundreds of protesters in different parts of the Gaza Strip. According to Palestinian journalists, dozens of protesters have been beaten and arrested by Hamas policemen and militiamen.
Representatives of 11 Palestinian factions held an emergency meeting in the Gaza Strip on Saturday to discuss the latest developments surrounding the protests and the Hamas crackdown on the demonstrators. The factions that attended the meeting are: Fatah, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Palestinian National Initiative, People’s Party, Arab Liberation Front, Palestinian Liberation Front, Arab-Palestinian Front, Popular Struggle Front and Popular Front – General Command.
The faction representatives said after the meeting that they were categorically opposed to “all forms of repression and assaults on freedoms, including arrests and the use of force.”
They also called on the demonstrators to hold peaceful protests and to refrain from causing damage to public properties.
The factions urged Hamas to withdraw its security forces and armed men from the streets and public squares and to free all the protesters who were arrested for participating in the demonstrations.
They also called for holding accountable all the security officers who assaulted the protesters.
The factions also expressed their support for the demands of the protesters and called on Hamas to stop imposing taxes and tariffs on goods in the Gaza Strip. The factions claimed that in addition to Israel and its blockade on the Gaza Strip, Hamas was also responsible for the crisis because of its decision to impose additional taxes on the residents there.
On Saturday, Hamas released some of the protesters on bail after forcing them to sign documents in which they pledge not to participate in the demonstrations.
The Palestinian Journalists Syndicate accused Hamas security forces of beating and arresting a number of journalists for their role in covering the protests.
Three of the journalists targeted by Hamas were identified as Mahmoud al-Louh, Hamzeh Hammad and Osama Kahlout.
Eyewitnesses said that Hamas security officers also beat human rights activist Jail Sarhan, who was taken to hospital for medical treatment. They said that Baker al-Turkumani, a lawyer working for the Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights, was also beaten by Hamas officers.
The PA and its senior representatives in the PLO and Fatah said that the protests are an indication of the growing discontent in the Gaza Strip over Hamas’s failed policies and repressive measures. They also accused Hamas security forces of severely beating dozens of protesters and journalists.
Ahmed Majdalani, a senior PLO official in the West Bank, said that the deterioration of the economy and living conditions, as well as high prices and Hamas taxes, were the main reason behind the demonstrations.
Condemning Hamas for ordering is security forces to use force to suppress the protests, Majdalani said that the only way to end the crisis was for Hamas to implement all reconciliation agreements it had signed with its rivals in Fatah.
PA Justice Minister Ali Abu Diak said that Hamas bears legal responsibility for crushing the protests. “Hamas must listen to the voice of the people,” he said. “It must stop its policy of strangulation, oppression and abuse against our people in the Gaza Strip.”
Hussein al-Sheikh, a senior member of the Fatah Central Committee, said that the Palestinians have launched an uprising against the “obscurantist” forces in the Gaza Strip. He said it was time for the Palestinians to overthrow the Hamas regime which, he added, is “using repressive measures to suppress those who are demanding an end to illegal taxes and the right to live in dignity.”
Fatah spokesman Osama Qawassmeh claimed that Hamas fired the two rockets at Tel Aviv last Thursday in an attempt to “suppress the revolution of the hungry” in the Gaza Strip. He strongly condemned Hamas for using force against Palestinians who took to the streets to “voice their rejection of oppression, poverty and high prices.”
Yahya Moussa, a senior Hamas official, on Friday proposed the formation of a national committee to manage the affairs of the Gaza Strip in the wake of the continued protests.
He called on Hamas to hold a press conference to announce its acceptance of the protesters’ demands, especially to allow another body to run the affairs of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Moussa said he was opposed to the use of force against the demonstrators.
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