PA academics take to the streets

Protests follow attacks on faculty that closed Gaza's largest university.

Palestinian lecturers and legislators demonstrated in Gaza City on Monday in protest against recurring attacks on the president of Al-Azhar University. The university, the largest in the Gaza Strip, decided earlier this month to suspend studies until further notice after some students assaulted its president, Dr. Adnan al-Khaldi, and other staff members. Sources in the university said the attackers were members of the ruling Fatah party. Chanting slogans against the growing state of anarchy and lawlessness, the protesters marched toward the offices of PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas in Gaza City. They also urged PA Interior Minister Nasser Youssef and the commanders of the security forces to take drastic measures against the perpetrators, including depriving them of graduation certificates. Policemen stationed outside Abbas's office used force to disperse the protesters to prevent them from storming the area. Some of the demonstrators later complained that they the policemen used excessive force. Earlier this month a group of people, including students and graduates, broke into the Board meeting of Al-Azhar University. They assaulted Dr. Khaldi, deans, Board members and university staff and destroyed office furniture. The university president and his aides were forced to flee the campus. According to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), some of the assailants were members of various PA security branches. It said the attack took place following a notice issued by the Student Affairs Dean to a male student warning him against being in places allocated to female students. The student refused to heed the warning and threatened to kill the Dean. The next day the university board announced the suspension of studies. According to Dr. Khaldi, the board has taken a number of decisions to punish the students who participated in the attack. The board also decided to take the case to the PA Attorney-General's office in order to take all necessary action against the assailants, bring them to justice, and enforce the rule of law. The names of the security officers who participated in the attack were handed to the Attorney-General's office to take legal action against them. "PCHR strongly condemns this attack, and views it as an unprecedented incident, which is part of a chain of crises and problems engulfing Al-Azhar University," said a statement issued by the center. "It is part of the overall deterioration in the Gaza Strip highlighted by the increased attacks on the rule of law." The center pointed out "with great concern" the continuing interference of security branches in the university's work, "which undermines its status and work as an academic institution. The Center calls upon these security branches to lift their guardianship over the University."