Hamas banned a conference in Gaza City on Saturday that was supposed to call for ending divisions among the Palestinians and achieving “national unity.”Hamas security officers raided the conference hall at the Al-Quds Hospital and expelled the organizers and participants, sources in the Gaza Strip reported. According to the sources, the officers summoned some of the organizers for interrogation.The conference was organized by political activists, journalists and academics who belong to a group called Nationalists for Ending the Division and Restoring National Unity.Several Palestinian factions strongly condemned the ban and accused Hamas of seeking to foil efforts to end the 10-year-old Hamas-Fatah dispute.The factions said the ban was an assault on public freedom in the Gaza Strip.The factions pointed out that the organizers had obtained permission from Hamas to hold the conference.On Thursday night, Hamas leaders changed their mind and decided to prohibit the organizers from holding the conference, the factions said. One of the organizers, Suheil Al-Sheikh, said he and his colleagues were surprised by the Hamas decision to ban the conference. “We hope that the Hamas regime and the security forces in the Gaza Strip would reconsider their decision, especially in wake of reconciliation discussions between Hamas and Fatah. We are sick and tired of hearing about these fruitless discussions.”Mahmoud Al-Zaq, a representative of the Popular Struggle Front, one of the factions behind the conference, denounced the Hamas ban.“We emphasize that we will pursue our efforts to rally the people against the division [between the West Bank and Gaza Strip] in order to create popular pressure on the parties,” he said. “The ban is unacceptable and it wouldn’t intimidate us or silence our voice.”Meanwhile a top Hamas official has strongly criticized his movement, holding it responsible for the harsh and tragic situation inside the Gaza Strip.Ahmed Yousef, who previously served as adviser to former Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh, made his criticism in an article he published over the weekend.Yousef lashed out at Hamas mosque preachers, saying they were using the podiums to sound meaningless words.He called upon the preachers to “live the bitter reality and stop deluding people that we are living in a reality of a utopia.“Everyone is shocked because of the reality we are living in and people don’t stop talking about the pain and tragedy,” the Hamas official said. He said that Hamas rulers have failed to improve the living conditions of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.“We have waited 10 years to see the virtuous city that some promised us,” Yousef said, referring to the decade-old rule of Hamas over the Gaza Strip. “But unfortunately, conditions have worsened and the poor have become even poorer. We have terrified students, who were dreaming of getting a job, offering them a bleak future. We drove these students to ride boats of death in the hope of living.”Yousef’s last remark refers to scores of Palestinians who fled the Gaza Strip in the past 10 years aboard smugglers’ boats with the hope of settling in Europe.