Thousands assemble in Strip and in West Bank to demand end to Hamas-Fatah schism.
By KHALED ABU TOAMEH
Hamas policemen used force on Tuesday evening to disperse hundreds of protesters who had gathered in a public square to demand an end to the Hamas-Fatah dispute, eyewitnesses reported.They said that policemen in civilian clothes beat the protesters with clubs and destroyed tents they had set up in the Katiba Square west of Gaza City.Several journalists who were covering the demonstration were also beaten by the policemen and some had their cameras confiscated, the eyewitnesses said.The Hamas government in Gaza had earlier vowed to allow the demonstrations to take place, saying it supported calls for unity.The demonstration was one of several by Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip calling for Palestinian unity.The protests, the largest of their kind in many years, were part of a campaign organized by several Palestinian political factions and youth groups.Inspired by the current wave of popular uprisings in a number of Arab countries, some of the organizers used Facebook to call on Palestinians to participate in the demonstrations.AdvertisementThe demonstrators chanted slogans such as “Oh Abbas, Oh Haniyeh, we want national unity,” “The people want to end the division,” and “One flag, not two flags.”Fears that Hamas and Fatah would use the demonstrations to incite against each other proved to be unfounded as the protesters insisted on chanting only slogans that urged the two sides to seek unity.In the Gaza Strip, eyewitnesses said that thousands of Palestinians belonging to several political groups participated in the “unity” rallies.Many of the demonstrators said that they would hold sit-in strikes in main squares in Gaza City until Hamas and Fatah agree to end their dispute.Hamas deployed hundreds of policemen in the city, as organizers used megaphones on top of vehicles to call on Palestinians to join the demonstrations.Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, meanwhile, invited Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to an urgent meeting to discuss reconciliation between the two sides.Haniyeh, in a message to the demonstrators, said he supported demands to end the division.“The Palestinian government is delighted to see the masses demanding reconciliation,” he said.“Our government never wanted the division and did not cause it.”Haniyeh added that Hamas had even made concessions to end the split, “but outside factors thwarted” the efforts.Haniyeh called on Palestinians to take advantage of the recent changes in the Arab world to achieve unity.Hamas legislator Ismail al-Ashqar said that his movement was serious about ending the dispute with Fatah and forming a Palestinian unity government.He expressed hope that Abbas would heed Haniyeh’s call for holding an urgent meeting to discuss ways of achieving reconciliation.In Ramallah, hundreds of youths gathered in the city’s Manara Square, chanting slogans in favor of unity between Hamas and Fatah.Mahmoud Taha, one of the organizers of the Facebook campaign, said that the protesters will remain in the square until the two parties heed their call.“The four-year division has hurt the Palestinians,” he said.Abbas also voiced his support for the campaign, saying unity is needed to end “occupation.”
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