Israeli occupation soldiers are seen on top of an armoured personnel carrier near the border between Israel and Gaza on the Israeli side Image Credit: Reuters

Highlights

  • Hamas faces harsh criticism for crushing Gaza protesters
  • Gazans protest Hamas tax hikes for a second day
  • Palestinian ignites himself in Gaza

Hundreds of Palestinians have gathered in Gaza for a third day to protest against tax hikes by Hamas authorities that have made life even harder in the blockaded territory.

Protests started in the two cities of Khan Younis and Deir Al Balah, where demonstrators burned tyres and blocked roads on Friday to protest against mismanagement, corruption and tax hikes by Hamas authorities, while a 32-year-old demonstrator set himself on fire.

2m

population of tiny enclave which lives under Israeli-blockade

Witnesses, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution by Hamas, say Hamas forces have beaten and arrested dozens, including journalists and activists.

According to Palestine TV, Hamas kidnapped Rafat Al Qadra, director-general of the Gaza Strip’s radio and television station, from his home on Saturday night.

Witnesses, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution by Hamas, say Hamas forces have beaten and arrested dozens, including local journalists and activists.

Hamas have violently dispersed larger protests held on Thursday in several parts of Gaza. According to a Gaza report more than 600 protestors are being held at Rantisi site in Jabaliya

The protests, which are being held under the banner “We Want to Live!” are being organised by youth movements and several Palestinian groups opposing Hamas rule over Gaza.

The widespread protests are seen as a major challenge to Hamas, which have seized control of the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2007.

An Israeli and Egyptian blockade imposed after Hamas seized power in 2007, along with three wars with Israel, has devastated the local economy.

Ahmed Majdalani, a senior PLO official in the West Bank, said that the deterioration of the economy and living conditions, as well as high prices and Hamas taxes, were the main reason behind the demonstrations.

PA Justice Minister Ali Abu Diak said that Hamas bears legal responsibility for crushing the protests. “Hamas must listen to the voice of the people,” he said. “It must stop its policy of strangulation, oppression and abuse against our people in the Gaza Strip.”

Hamas must listen to the voice of the people. It must stop its policy of strangulation, oppression and abuse against our people in the Gaza Strip.”

- | Palestinian Justice Minister

Hamas kidnaps the director of Radio and TV

According to Palestine TV , Hamas kidnapped Rafat Al Qadra, director-general of the Gaza Strip’s radio and television station, from his home on Saturday night.

The General Authority for Palestinian Radio and Television condemned the kidnapping of the director-general, Rafat Al Qudra from his home in Gaza, describing the crime as “an act of organized crime and a violation of all red lines.”

In a statement issued on Saturday evening, authority demanded the immediate release of the detainees and journalists, stressing that they would follow up the matter at all levels, both internal and external, according to the Palestinian news agency WAFA.

Fatah movement said Hamas had begun imposing a house arrest on a number of Hamas cadres and leaders in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas detains rights workers

In the past few days, Hamas security officers have used force to disperse hundreds of protesters in different parts of the Gaza Strip. According to Palestinian journalists, dozens of protesters have been beaten and arrested by Hamas men.

Palestinian rights groups say Hamas briefly detained four of their researchers as it dispersed protests in Gaza against recent tax hikes.

Two researchers from the Al Mezan rights group, one from the Palestinian Center for Human Rights and one from Al Dameer were held for a few hours before being released. Online videos show Hamas forces raiding homes, attacking protesters with clubs and firing into the air.

Several Palestinian factions have signed a statement urging Hamas to stop its crackdown and lower the taxes.

Representatives of 11 Palestinian factions held an emergency meeting in the Gaza Strip on Saturday to discuss the latest developments surrounding the protests and the Hamas crackdown on demonstrators.

The factions that attended the meeting are Fatah, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Palestinian National Initiative, People’s Party, Arab Liberation Front, Palestinian Liberation Front, Arab-Palestinian Front, Popular Struggle Front and Popular Front – General Command.

The Palestinian factions have signed a statement urging Hamas to withdraw its security forces and armed men from the streets and public squares and to free all the protesters who were arrested for participating in the demonstrations.

They also called for holding accountable all the security officers who assaulted the protesters.

Hamas detains rights workers as it disperses Gaza protests

Palestinian rights groups say Hamas briefly detained four of their researchers as it dispersed protests in Gaza against recent tax hikes.

Two researchers from the Al-Mezan rights group, one from the Palestinian Center for Human Rights and one from Al-Dameer were held for a few hours before being released.

Online videos show Hamas forces raiding homes, attacking protesters with clubs and firing into the air.

The factions signed a statement calling on Hamas to withdraw its security forces and armed men from the streets and public squares. They also urged the movement to free all the protesters arrested for participating in the demonstrations and called for a commitment to bring to book all Hamas security officers proven to have assaulted protesters.

Israeli air strikes

The pressure Hamas faces from an angry public coincides with a barrage of Israeli air strikes over the weekend.

Israeli aircraft struck dozens of sites in the Gaza Strip and Palestinian militants fired rockets at southern Israel early Friday after an attack on the Tel Aviv area dramatically escalated tensions weeks before Israel’s April 9 election.

The rocket launches at Israel’s centre were the first since the 2014 Gaza Strip war.

They didn’t land in built-up areas and no casualties were reported on either side as the violence expanded.

Eager to ratchet down tensions?

Egyptian mediators have been trying to broker an end to the confrontation, Gaza officials said.

In a sign that the ruling Hamas movement wasn’t interested in any further escalation, the weekly Friday protest against Israel that’s been going on for nearly a year was called off.

Israel has launched three brutal assaults on Gaza since 2008.

With Gaza having borne the brunt of the violence, and its economy in a shambles, there is little appetite in the seaside territory for another conflict.

— with inputs from agencies