Thousands in Gaza protest against worsening living conditions

With tens of thousands either out of work, not receiving salaries or getting paid less, economic conditions in the Strip are deteriorating fast

Palestinian children carry water bottles in the al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza City on January 4, 2018. ( AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED ABED)
Palestinian children carry water bottles in the al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza City on January 4, 2018. ( AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED ABED)

Thousands of Palestinians protested Thursday evening against the deteriorating humanitarian and economic conditions in the Gaza Strip, local media reported, demanding that the Palestinian leadership provide them with solutions.

The demonstrators rallying in the Jabaliya refugee camp vented their anger against both the Palestinian Authority of President Mahmoud Abbas and the Islamist Hamas terror group, which runs Gaza.

Video from the protest by the Quds New Network showed protesters shouting “We want unity,” in reference to the reconciliation process, which both Hamas and Fatah have said recently is in danger of failing.

“Where is the future,” “We want electricity,” proclaimed two signs held by two of the protesters, according to pictures of the event posted on social media.

“Our requests are justice, living freely and social justice,” read another sign held by protesters.

Others held banners with the slogan “open the crossings.” The Rafah Border Crossing out of the Strip and into Egypt has rarely been opened in recent years, and exiting through Israel for cases other than medical are complex, leaving many Gazans unable to leave the enclave.

The demands mirror those echoed in recent protests against economic conditions that have swept Iran in recent days. They also come at a time when the US has threatened to cut its aid to the Palestinians and the UN agency that deals with Palestinian refugees, many of them in Gaza

Gaza residents have experienced harsher economic and living conditions in recent months due to a series of sanctions placed on the enclave by Abbas.

The sanctions, which were aimed at forcing the Hamas terror group to cede control of the territory, included cutting electricity to anywhere between two to six hours daily, the slashing of tens of thousands of government worker salaries and thousands more workers being forced into early retirement.

The electricity cuts are a result of a dispute between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.

The PA announced on Wednesday that it had agreed to restore payments for electricity in Gaza, six months after halting them.

The electricity payments have been a key issue in ongoing efforts at reconciliation between Hamas and Abbas’s Fatah, but they have yet to take effect.

Additionally, two months have passed since 45,000 Hamas employees received their last salaries, as Hamas hands control of the Strip to the Palestinian Authority amid the reconciliation.

An Egyptian-brokered agreement in early October originally set a December 1 deadline for the terror group to fully transfer power in the Gaza Strip back to the PA, though that was later pushed back to December 10.

In Gaza, the situation has remained essentially unchanged despite the deadline, with Hamas police still patrolling the streets, while crippling electricity shortages endure.

On Wednesday the PA announced it was ready resume paying Israel to provide Gaza with the same electricity supply it did before Abbas began the sanctions, but the measure has yet to take place.

Hamas claimed earlier in December that it had handed over control of all government ministries, but Fatah’s top negotiator later said “obstacles” remained. One sticking point is the terror group’s insistence that it hold on to its weapons and military hardware.

Since the start of the reconciliation process between rival Palestinian factions — several others have failed in the past — the question over the fate of Hamas’s 25,000-strong military wing has been a thorny issue between the sides.

Abbas wants the PA to be in full control of all weapons and security in the Gaza Strip, but Hamas is refusing to give up its arsenal. Hamas, which seeks the destruction of Israel, has fought three rounds of fighting with Israel since seizing power from Fatah in the enclave in 2007.

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