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Using clubs and rifle butts, Hamas militiamen sought to stop a protest by political opponents in the Gaza Strip on Monday, but around 300 people defied the ban and rallied in a main square, chanting, "We want freedom."
Hamas in Gaza routed forces loyal to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah movement in June and have tolerated no dissent since taking over the coastal strip.
After Fatah and other allied groups announced plans to stage a rally Monday, Hamas banned "all demonstrations and public gatherings" that did not have special permission.
Buses arriving at the protest site were halted by Hamas guards who beat protesters, driving them away and confiscating Fatah flags.
Nevertheless, about 300 protesters got past the cordon and demonstrated for about 20 minutes, shouting "We want to raise our voice," before dispersing.
Hamas men arrested several demonstrators and confiscated equipment from news photographers and cameramen seeking to cover the arrests, including an Associated Press stills camera.
Saleh Nasser of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine was at the protest and condemned Hamas's response.
"Treating people in this way when they came to raise their voice in a peaceful demonstration is something that is condemned, rejected and cannot be accepted," he said. "We are astonished by the decision to ban demonstrations."
Following the protest, Hamas squads raided Gaza offices of media organizations seeking material from the rally, eyewitnesses said, and staff at Gulf-based satellite broadcaster Al-Arabiyya said the Hamas men seized a camera, videotape and tripod from their premises.
On Friday, rifle-toting Executive Force members roared up to a pre-wedding party where revelers were dancing to Fatah songs. Video showed the Hamas men firing in the air to break up the celebration, clubbing guests, hurling chairs around and leaving one man lying unconscious.
The images were repeatedly broadcast on Palestine TV, and the cameraman, from the local Ramattan news agency, was detained and questioned by Hamas for several hours.
On Monday, the Executive Force was in action again, breaking up the wedding of a Fatah activist and detaining five guests for several hours. One of those arrested, Zaid Salem, said participants were singing Fatah songs but did not break a Hamas ban on celebratory gunfire and were not charged with any wrongdoing.
"We were celebrating the wedding, and we were astonished by this act," he said. "We were released, but we have no explanation for what happened."
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