Hamas violently disperses demonstrators on 3rd day of internal protests

Ramallah asks Egypt to intervene; Fatah official: ‘This is not the occupation, it’s Hamas gangs terrorizing Gaza’; conflicting reports on alleged self-immolation by one man

A screenshot of video shown by the Kan public broadcaster of a protest in the Gaza Strip over the cost of living on March 15, 2019. (Screen capture: Twitter)
A screenshot of video shown by the Kan public broadcaster of a protest in the Gaza Strip over the cost of living on March 15, 2019. (Screen capture: Twitter)

A senior Palestinian official said Saturday that the Ramallah-based leadership has asked Egypt to pressure Hamas over the violent suppression of protests during a third day of demonstrations in Gaza against the terror group and the dire economic conditions in the enclave.

PLO Executive Committee member Wasel Abu-Youssef told the Times of Israel that the Palestinian representative to Egypt and the Arab League, Diab al-Louh, has called for an emergency high-level meeting of the regional organization to discuss the situation in Gaza. When asked if the meeting would discuss the violent suppression of protests, Abu Yousef said that it would.

According to Palestinian media reports, Qatar has also been asked to intervene in the escalating violence.

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip took to the streets on Saturday for the third successive day.

Unverified footage appeared to show a protester setting himself alight. According to Channel 12 news, Ahmed Abu Tahn self-immolated after he was unable to pay his rent and was evicted from his home.

But after looking into the matter, the Al Mezan rights group in Gaza told the Haaretz newspaper the film was not a new one, and that no such incident had occurred on Saturday.

The veracity of the video could not be independently confirmed.

In response to a video of Hamas forces suppressing demonstrations, a close confidant of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas tweeted his outrage.

“This is not the Israeli occupation forces!!”Fatah Central Committee member Hussein al-Sheikh said. “It is the Hamas gangs that are terrorizing and suppressing the hungry in the Gaza Strip.”

The Ynet news site reported that at least 80 demonstrators affiliated with the Fatah movement had been arrested over the past 24 hours.

Palestinian rights groups said Hamas briefly detained four of their researchers as it dispersed protests.

On Friday, reports from the coastal enclave said Hamas used live fire to put down demonstrations.

The center of Friday’s demonstrations was in Deir el-Balah, where Hebrew media reports said protesters burned tires and blocked one of the central Gaza city’s main roads. Similar protests also took place in Khan Younis in the south of the Strip. In video from the demonstrations, protesters could be seen throwing rocks as the sound of apparent gunfire is heard in the background.

Quoting the demonstrators, Ynet said they were beaten by security forces loyal to Hamas. There were no immediate reports on the number of injured.

The rare public show of dissent in Gaza began Thursday as demonstrators took to the streets in a number of locations throughout the Strip to protest the cost of living and Hamas rule.

Friday’s protests came after the firing of two rockets from Gaza late Thursday toward Tel Aviv. In response, Israel hit more than 100 Hamas targets and Hamas fired seven more rockets into Israel before the two sides reportedly reached a fresh ceasefire. Weekly clashes with Israeli troops along the border were called off for the first time since they began last March.

According to Ynet, photographer Osama Kahalut was arrested by Hamas for taking a picture of Friday’s protests. An AFP reporter had said Thursday that journalists were prevented from filming or taking pictures at one of the demonstrations.

The protests were 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 Hamas, an Islamist 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.

The Palestinian Non-Governmental Organizations 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 Jabaliya 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 expressed support for the protesters. “Gaza is rising up in the face of oppressors,” he wrote on Twitter.

Hamas has also organized several anti-Abbas protests in recent days to counter the popular dissent.

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.

Adam Rasgon and agencies contributed to this report.

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