Hamas-run security forces broke up protests against the terror group in the Gaza Strip Thursday, eyewitnesses said, cracking down on a rare public show of dissent in the coastal enclave.
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 reporter said.
In a separate protest in central Gaza, dozens of people demonstrated, including by setting tires on fire.
Hamas-run police spokesman Ayman al-Batniji said in a statement that “police in the area of Deir Balah dealt with a group of citizens who closed roads and ignited fires,” referring to the protest in central Gaza.
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“The police have restored calm and order, and a number of violators were arrested.”
The protests had been organized to call for an improvement in the quality of life in Gaza, which suffers from high unemployment, widespread poverty and poor electricity and water infrastructure.
They were also seen as a challenge to the Hamas terror group, which has ruled the Strip since 2007.
A statement purporting to be from the organizers 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 forces 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-Governmental 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.”
Hussein al-Sheikh, a close confidant of Palestinian Authority Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, expressed support for the protesters.
“Gaza is rising up in the face of oppressors,” he wrote on Twitter.
Hamas seized Gaza from the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority in a 2007 near civil war. The terror group had surprisingly won Palestinian parliamentary elections a year earlier. Since then it has controlled Gaza, while the PA has maintained limited self-rule in the occupied West Bank.