Hamas police violently suppress Gaza student protest

Al-Azhar University calls in forces to break up demonstration over tuition fees; at least five Palestinian students wounded

Khaled Abu Toameh is the Palestinian Affairs correspondent for The Times of Israel

Students at Al-Azhar Univesity in Gaza protest student tuition fees on March 26, 2018. (Screen capture: Facebook video)
Students at Al-Azhar Univesity in Gaza protest student tuition fees on March 26, 2018. (Screen capture: Facebook video)

Hamas security forces on Monday wounded at least five Palestinian students during a demonstration over tuition fees at the Al-Azhar University in the Gaza Strip, sources said.

University officials summoned police to the campus after the students staged a sit-in strike. The students were protesting a decision by the university administration to prevent them from taking examinations because of their failure to pay tuition. The sources said that the administration last week rejected the students’ request to pay their debts in installments.

At least five of the students said that they were beaten by the Hamas policemen.

The Palestinian Students’ Union in the Gaza Strip condemned the use of “excessive force” by the Hamas security forces during Monday’s incident. The union accused the Hamas policemen of preventing ambulances from entering the university campus to evacuate the wounded students.

Sources close to Hamas claimed that the protest was initiated by students affiliated with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s ruling Fatah faction.

Tensions are running high between Hamas and Fatah following the continued failure to implement a reconciliation agreement that was meant to see the PA take over control of Gaza and the apparent assassination attempt that targeted the convoy of PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah in the northern Gaza Strip earlier this month. Since then Abbas has imposed fresh sanctions on Gaza.

Al-Azhar University, which was established in 1992 as an independent nonprofit higher education institution, has 14,000 students and more than 700 full-time staff members. The university’s main budget comes from student fees and contributions from the Palestinian Authority and some Arab and international parties.

Monday’s incident was the second of its kind on the campus in recent days. Last Saturday, Hamas policemen broke up another student protest that was organized by Fatah supporters in protest against the administration’s refusal to allow them to take examinations.

The administration accused the students of smashing windows and damaging property during the protest.

In a separate development, Fatah accused Hamas of “kidnapping” one of its leaders in the Gaza Strip. It said that Hamas security officers “kidnapped” Mahmoud Abu Aridah after raiding his home in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip.

It was not clear why Abu Aridah had been arrested by Hamas.

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