GAZA STRIP: Hundreds of young people take to streets for unity
Several hundred young Palestinians took to the streets of Gaza City on Monday, calling for reconciliation between Hamas, which is in control of the Gaza Strip and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party, which controls the West Bank. The split came in 2007 after an attempt at a unity government fell apart.
The protest, organized by independent youths, started one day a head of a planned rally March 15 called by a number of youth groups on Facebook. Chanting slogans such as "The people want to end the division," protesters gathered at the Unknown Soldier Square, a few yards from the Hamas-dominated parliament. Organizers, who pitched tents and brought mattresses, said they would not leave the square until Fatah and Hamas reconciled.
"We are fed up with the split," said organizer Mohammed Antar, 22, as he waved the national flag. "Palestine is not owned by Fatah or Hamas. They should realize that they are harming the Palestinian cause with this division."
Organizers stressed that their movement is purely independent and nor directed aganist any party. "Every Palestinian has the right to join the demonstrations, but no factional flags will be raised but the national flag," said Antar.
"We don't belong to any parties. Parties have tried to put an end to the Hamas-Fatah conflict, but they have always failed. Today we will take the lead and our efforts will not go in vain," Mohammed Shiekh Yossif, another organizer said.
Demonstrations are expected to alslo take place Tuesday in the West Bank.
The sit-in was peaceful. Men and women chanted national songs and danced the traditional dabke. But dozens of Hamas secret police, both male and female, were among activists, monitoring activities. In the past, Hamas officials had tried to prevent demonstrations from taking place, but have backed this one.
Hamas officials visited the protest Monday night, saying they supported the popular movement. "We urge every Palestinian to participate in tomorrow's demonstrations," Hamas spokesman Sami abu Zuhri told reporters during his visit to the square late on Monday. "We need to be reunified to be able to defy the Zionist enemy."
One protester, who did not want to give his name, said he is a member of the Hamas military wing and also a policeman. "I will go out with my wife," he said. "We will only only hold Palestine flags."
Safa Awad, a university student who was holding a placard reading "Unity will save us," said "This is the first time I've demonstrated. Gaza's young people are waking up."
— Ahmed Aldabba in Gaza City.
Photo: Palestinian youths hold flags and posters during a rally in Gaza City calling for a reconciliation between the rival Palestinian groups, Hamas and Fatah. Credit: Hatem Moussa / Associated Press