Thousands of dissidents from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party rallied in Gaza Tuesday, provoking the ire of the Ramallah-based leadership of the Palestinian faction.
Demonstrators waved yellow Fatah flags and held up posters of former Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat and top Abbas rival Mahmoud Dahlan at al-Saraya Square in Gaza City.
The rally was called to mark the 14th anniversary of Arafat’s death.
Dahlan, a former security chief who was accused of attempting a coup against Abbas, currently resides in the United Arab Emirates.
Addressing the rally via video conference, Dahlan called on Abbas to travel to Gaza and announce the formation of a unity government including all the Palestinian factions, including Hamas, which has ruled the Strip since forcing Fatah out.
“As a brother, I urge him to go to Gaza immediately and announce a unity government that includes all the national Palestinian factions,” Dahlan said. “Go to your people and strengthen your position through them…Then you will be able to confront the entire American administration.”
Abbas has not visited Gaza since 2007, when Hamas ousted the Fatah-dominated PA in a bloody coup.
PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and other PA and Fatah officials, however, have visited the territory a number of times in the past several years as a part of attempts to advance reconciliation efforts.
Majed Abu Shamala, a Dahlan loyalist and a member of the defunct Palestinian Legislative Council, also addressed the gathering and appeared to lash out at the Ramallah-based Palestinian leadership for cutting part of the salaries of PA employees in Gaza.
“Abu Ammar was keen that nobody’s salary, not even the spies, be cut,” Abu Shamala said, referring to Arafat’s nom de guerre and speaking from a stage with a massive image of the former PA president in the backdrop. “In whose interest is it to threaten people with their salaries and their means of living?”
Since April 2017, the Ramallah-based Palestinian leadership has cut part of the salaries of PA employees in Gaza to pressure Hamas to give up control of the coastal enclave.
Abbas has recently threatened to cut all PA budgets allocated to Gaza including the total value of the salaries of PA employees in the Strip, if Hamas does not cede control of the coastal enclave.
Fatah spokesman Atef Abu Saif slammed the rally, calling it a “resounding failure,” according the official PA news site Wafa.
He also praised the Fatah members in Gaza who did not attend the rally, arguing they represent “the defenders of the homeland.”
Another Fatah spokesman Osama Qawasma also lambasted the rally, and according to Wafa, accused Hamas of using mosque loudspeakers to call on Gazans to participate.
For several years, the Ramallah-based Fatah leadership has vehemently opposed Dahlan and his loyalists.
In late 2016, a PA court sentenced Dahlan in absentia to three years in prison on corruption charges. At the time, Sevag Torossian, one of Dahlan’s lawyers, told AFP that the court’s ruling was a part of “Abbas’s ‘liquidation plan’ at the expense of his opponents.”
Dahlan fled the West Bank in 2011 after PA security forces raided his home in the Ramallah area.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.