Hamas security forces and militiamen on Friday foiled an attempt by Palestinian activists to launch large-scale demonstrations throughout the Gaza Strip to protest economic hardship and demand an end to the ongoing shortage of power and gas.
Hundreds of Hamas officers and gunmen were deployed in various parts of the Gaza Strip ahead of the planned protests, which erupted in the late afternoon under the slogan “We want to live!”
The Hamas men, many of them in civilian clothes, blocked many squares and streets and conducted thorough searches on passersby as part of an effort to thwart the planned protests. Witnesses said the restrictions resembled a total curfew that scared off many Palestinians who were planning to participate in the protests.
A senior Hamas official in the Strip claimed that the Palestinian Authority and its security forces were behind the latest protests with the aim of removing Hamas from power. The official claimed that his group has “intelligence” that senior PA security officers in the West Bank are involved in organizing some of the protests.
Despite the restrictions and tough security measures, hundreds of Palestinians managed to organize small protests in some areas of the Gaza Strip, including the Jabalya refugee camp, where demonstrators clashed with undercover Hamas security officers.
Repression won't solve crisis
Hamas officers and gunmen also used force to disperse hundreds of protesters in the northern Gaza Strip and the city of Khan Yunis.
The Palestinian Journalists Syndicate condemned Hamas for detaining several Palestinian reporters while covering the protests. It said some of the reporters were threatened and prevented from covering the protests, while others had their cameras and mobile phones confiscated.
The Syndicate said two journalists, Mohammed al-Baba and Bashar Taleb, were detained for 40 minutes inside a Hamas-controlled police station in Jabalya camp. A third journalist, Ehab al-Fasfous, was physically assaulted by Hamas officers, who also seized his mobile phone. Three other journalists – Fouad Jaradeh, Mohammed Abu Awn, and Mohammed al-Haddad – were threatened not to cover the protests, according to the Syndicate.
“The Syndicate condemns the arrests, assaults and threats that prevented the journalists from carrying out their professional work,” the group said in a statement. “We call on human rights organizations to quickly intervene to release the detained colleagues, retrieve their equipment, halt the threats against them, and allow journalists to do their work.”
Last Sunday, thousands of Palestinians took to the streets of the Gaza Strip to demand that Hamas improve their living conditions and end the electricity and gas crisis. Some of the protests turned into anti-Hamas demonstrations, with Palestinian chanting slogans calling for an end to the Islamist movement’s rule over the coastal enclave.Shortly after the protests, thousands of Hamas supporters also took to the streets in a show of force designed to intimidate the group’s rivals.
A group representing the protesters, Al-Hirak al-Sha’bi (Popular Action), said in a statement on Saturday that Hamas security forces imposed a curfew on areas where the demonstrations were supposed to take place, detained journalists, and searched their equipment.
The group said that Hamas used “hundreds of vehicles, placed all their units and soldiers on high alert, blocked roads, and imposed a curfew in scenes unwitnessed in the Gaza Strip for many years.” The group added: “This proves that our revolution is succeeding.”
It called on Palestinians in the coastal enclave to hold another day of protests this Monday.
Former Palestinian Authority minister and negotiator with Israel Hassan Asfour, who serves as editor of the Palestinian Amad news website, said that Hamas was delighted when Friday ended without thousands of residents of the Strip going out to the streets.
Asfour pointed out that many streets were deserted because of the massive deployment of Hamas security officers and members of its armed wing, Izaddin al-Qassam. He further noted that Hamas had recruited its media outlets, social media platforms, and mosques to wage a smear campaign against the protesters, accusing them of being traitors and infidels.
Mohammed al-Aklouk, a Hamas-affiliated preacher in the Gaza Strip, launched a scathing attack on the organizers of the protests, accusing them of harboring “evil” intentions. He said that those behind the protests were trying to create the impression that they are working to find solutions for the young people there, especially regarding unemployment.
The preacher hinted that the Palestinian Authority was behind the attempts to instigate violence and instability in the Gaza Strip. Aklouk claimed that the Ramallah-based Palestinian leadership has been “conspiring” with Israel to impose a blockade on the region. He also accused the Palestinian Authority of imposing economic sanctions on the Strip, including suspending payment of salaries and stipends to thousands of Palestinians.
According to Aklouk, the protests in the Gaza Strip are aimed at undermining the “Jihad (holy war) project” against Israel rather than improve the living conditions of the Palestinians.
Ahmed Majdalani, Secretary-General of the PLO’s Popular Struggle Front, told the Voice of Palestine radio station that the Palestinians have the right to demonstrate and defend their civil, economic and social rights.
He said that Hamas considers the new protests as an “existential threat because of its repressive measures and failure to provide services to the people, while collecting taxes from them.”
Majdalani added that Hamas must realize that repression won’t solve the crisis because the Palestinians are “always ready for the challenge.” He urged Hamas to backtrack on its policies and refrain from using force against the peaceful protesters.