Hamas security break up Gaza protests: witnesses

Gaza City: Hamas security broke up protests in the Gaza Strip Thursday, eyewitnesses said, cracking down on a rare public show of dissent in the Palestinian territory.

Dozens of security officials, many in plain clothes, dispersed a demonstration in northern Gaza, the eyewitnesses said.

Dozens of people had been protesting there.

Journalists were prevented from filming or taking pictures at the protest, an AFP journalist said.

In a separate protest in central Gaza, dozens of people demonstrated, including by setting tyres on fire.

Police spokesman Ayman al-Batniji said in a statement, referring to the protest in central Gaza, that “police in the area of Deir Balah dealt with a group of citizens who closed roads and ignited fires.”

“The police have restored calm and order, and a number of violators were arrested.”

The protests had been organised to call for an improvement in the quality of life in Gaza, which Israel has blockaded for more than a decade.

They were also seen as a challenge to Hamas, which has ruled the strip since 2007.

A statement purporting to be from the organisers said the protests were non-political and against the rising cost of living and taxes in the strip.

Videos posted on social media appeared to show Hamas security firing in the air to disperse the protests.

Social media posts were accompanied with the hashtag “we want to live” in Arabic.

The protests had ended by Thursday evening and the situation was calm, an AFP journalist on the scene and eyewitnesses said.

The Palestinian Non-Government Organisations Network, which includes more than 100 charities, said in a statement it “strongly condemned the campaign of arrests and aggression that the security forces launched in Jabalia in northern Gaza against the right of dozens of citizens.”

It said the protesters were “gathering peacefully to demand an improvement in the life quality in the Gaza Strip.”

Islamists Hamas seized Gaza from the internationally recognised Palestinian government, led by president Mahmud Abbas, in a 2007 near civil war.

They had surprisingly won Palestinian parliamentary elections a year earlier.

Since then they have controlled Gaza, while Abbas’s Palestinian Authority has limited self-rule in the occupied West Bank.

The United States, European Union and other Western powers consider Hamas a terrorist organisation.