Following Sunday’s widespread demonstrations in the Gaza Strip in protest of the high cost of living and shortage in electricity and gas supplies, Palestinian activists announced that they will resume the protests on Friday.
Thousands of Palestinians participated in the demonstrations that erupted in various parts of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. According to some reports and witnesses, Hamas security officers used force to disperse the protesters. Scores of Palestinians were arrested and injured, they claimed.
The demonstrations are seen by Palestinians as a big embarrassment for the Hamas leaders, many of whom are currently based in Qatar, Turkey, and Lebanon. Yet, at this stage, the protests do not seem to pose a real threat to Hamas’s rule over the coastal enclave.
Similar protests took place in the Gaza Strip four years ago under the slogan “We want to live!” The protests, however, were quickly suppressed by Hamas security forces and militiamen belonging to its armed wing, Izaddin al-Qassam. Then, Hamas accused its rivals in the ruling Fatah faction headed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of being behind the protests.
The latest protests coincided with increased talk about a possible reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas.
Last week, Abbas and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh met in Turkey to discuss ways of achieving “national unity” and ending the dispute that erupted between the two parties after Hamas won the 2006 parliamentary election.
On Sunday, Abbas and Haniyeh attended a conference of leaders of several Palestinian factions in Egypt in yet another attempt to end the Fatah-Hamas rivalry and reach an agreement on the formation of a Palestinian unity government.
The conference, however, ended without agreement, with Hamas rejecting Abbas’s call for endorsing a “peaceful popular resistance” against Israel. Hamas also made it clear at the conference that it would not adhere to any political program that recognizes Israel or the agreements signed between the Palestinians and Israelis over the past three decades.
What were the major Palestinian protests in Gaza on Sunday?
It was not clear whether the latest protests in the Gaza Strip were part of a larger campaign against Hamas. It was also unclear whether a single party was behind the demonstrations.
On Sunday night, hundreds of Hamas supporters also took to the streets in a show of force and to express support for the Islamist movement.
A leaflet signed by the “Youth Movement” thanked the “heroic” residents of the Gaza Strip for heeding its call to take to the streets on July 30 to voice their “rejection of oppression, hunger, and the bad economic situation.”
The group said it had issued a two-week ultimatum to the Hamas leadership to implement the “just demands” of the people. “We have broken the barrier of fear and silence,” the group said. It condemned the arrests and physical assaults carried out by Hamas security forces against the protesters and called on local and international human rights organizations to intervene to secure the release of all those who were detained in the past few days. “We announce the continuation and expansion of our peaceful revolution until all our demands are met,” the group added.
During some of the protests, Palestinians chanted slogans calling for an immediate end to the economic crisis, including the blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip. They also chanted slogans calling for the removal of Hamas from power.
“Oh, the shame! Oh, the shame! They sold Gaza for dollars,” the protesters chanted on Sunday night. At other protests, they chanted the famous slogan from the Arab Spring: “The people want the regime to fall!” In one video, the protesters are heard chanting: “Oh, Abbas, Oh, Haniyeh, the [Palestinian] people are the victim.”
Mohammed Nasser, a human rights activist in the Gaza Strip, stressed that the protests would remain “peaceful” and urged Palestinians to avoid clashing with Hamas security forces.
He also urged the Hamas security forces to exercise restraint and display an understanding for the demands of the protesters. Nasser was later arrested by the Hamas security forces.
According to sources in the Gaza Strip, Hamas security officers on Sunday night raided the Abu Yousef al-Najjar Hospital in Rafah and arrested three Palestinian men who were injured during the protests.
The PA’s official WAFA news agency said Hamas security officers beat Walid Abdel Rahman, a correspondent for Palestine TV in the Gaza Strip while he was reporting on the demonstrations.
“We are protesting against poverty and unemployment,” said Salah Naim, a political activist from Khan Yunis. “The entire people took to the streets because they are fed up with the situation. We are angry not only against Hamas, but the Palestinian Authority as well.”