RAMALLAH, West Bank — Hundreds of Palestinians protested across several West Bank cities Monday, one of the most violent eruptions yet in the growing public uproar over rising consumer prices and the Palestinian Authority’s budget crisis.
Youths in Ramallah and Bethlehem threw stones, burned tires, blocked roads and set trash cans on fire. Thousands of taxi and truck drivers launched a strike throughout the West Bank to protest the recent spike in gas prices.
Holding signs that read, “We Need a Loan to Buy Gas,” the drivers called upon the cash-strapped Palestinian government to subsidize the latest hike.
Though the day's protests, which were also reported in Hebron and Jenin, appeared spontaneous and disorganized, there were concerns that the movement is gaining steam. On Tuesday, students from colleges and high school are planning to participate in a one-day strike in support of the transportation workers.
Though so far Palestinians have remained largely on the sidelines of the "Arab Spring" uprisings in other parts of the region, some worry that the economic pressure and rising prices will finally bring them out into the streets.
“I have five shekels [roughly $1.30] in my pocket," said one protesting youth in downtown Ramallah on Monday, who did not give his name. “I can’t afford school and my parents are broke. You must stand with us!”
In Hebron, protesters threw rocks at City Hall and the fire station, according to the Palestinian news agency Maan. Palestinian police used tear gas to quell the crowds, but no injuries were reported.
Most of the public anger so far has been directed at the Palestinian Authority, which is struggling to stay afloat given a deficit of $100 million a month. Salaries for more than 150,000 government workers are a month behind and President Mahmoud Abbas warned over the weekend that October paychecks are in doubt.
Others expressed anger at the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and called for the Abbas government to cease its economic and security cooperation with Israel.
Many called for the resignation of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, though Abbas on Saturday took full responsibility for the budget and economic policies.
— Malak Hasan in Ramallah and Edmund Sanders in Jerusalem
Photo: A Palestinian shouts slogans against the Palestinian Authority during a protest held outside the municipal building in the West Bank city of Hebron on Monday over rising prices and the worsening economic situation. Credit: Abed Hashlamoun / European Pressphoto Agency.