Palestinian security forces fired stun grenades and tear gas to disperse an anti-government protest in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday, as hundreds demonstrated against the Palestinian Authority’s punitive measures against the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.
Throngs of protesters in Ramallah chanted and hoisted signs before they were quickly cut off when Palestinian National Security Forces threw stun grenades and fired tear gas into the crowd.
After hearing about a planned protest for Wednesday, Palestinian Authority leadership responded by sending in security forces in civilian clothing to the demonstration and to ask supporters of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to hold a counter protest at the same time.
The protesters called for 83-year-old Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to drop measures against Gaza, which critics say amount to collective punishment of the two million residents there.
“I’ve never witnessed this amount of violence, to be honest, towards Palestinian protesters by the security forces,” activist Dina J told Middle East Eye.
“I heard of two cases [of people] who were arrested right after they left the hospital. [The police] were literally standing outside the hospital waiting for people to leave and arrested them,” Dina added.
After the protesters were dispersed, organisers pledged to hold fresh rallies in the coming days in a new challenge for the ailing and unpopular Palestinian leader.
Hundreds of protesters took to the streets on Wednesday night (MEE/Tessa Fox)
“There will be more protests within the next week,” campaign activist Fadi Quran told AFP.
Later that evening, the PA Council of Ministers released a statement condemning the protest and placing sole blame on Hamas – the governing body in the Gaza Strip – for the dire situation Gazans now face.
At midnight, the advisor on Governorate Affairs to President Abbas banned all protests until the end of Eid, stating the reason being: “given the current circumstances during the holidays, and to facilitate citizens to conduct their normal lives during this period.”
Seemingly to hurt Hamas, the PA has introduced a series of measures against Gaza over the past year, while it has not paid the full salaries of tens of thousands of its civil servants in the besieged coastal enclave for months.
Critics say such moves further exacerbate the split between the two parts of the Palestinian territories.
Protests against the PA began on Sunday, where hundreds of people gathered and called for measures imposed by the PA on Gaza, such as restrticting limits on medical supplies to the besieged Strip.
The protests come at a difficult time for Abbas, who was recently hospitalised for a week with a lung infection.
Polls show the majority of Palestinians want him to resign.
He is also facing potential isolation after cutting off all contact with Donald Trump’s administration, because of its pro-Israel bias.
READ MORE ►
The decision to ban protests in the city came after a Sunday demonstration where some 2,000 Palestinians called for an end to the PA’s measures imposed on Gaza.
A statement on official news agency Wafa on Wednesday cited the Eid Muslim festival, which is expected to begin Friday, as justification for the ban.
On Wednesday night, dozens of Palestinian security forces, positioned in the city’s central Manara square and roads leading to it, fired sound grenades and tear gas after hundreds of protesters began chanting in support of Gaza.
The measures forced the protesters, including men, women and children, to retreat, before returning, with the scene repeating itself for nearly an hour.
A small group of pro-Abbas demonstrators then emerged, but were not dispersed by the security forces.
Quran denied that the march was pro-Hamas, instead stressing that it was in favour of Palestinian political unity and ending the decade-long split.
Reuters and AFP contributed to this report