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Protesters beaten in anti-Hamas rally in Gaza

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    August 31, 2007 Protesters beaten in anti-Hamas rally in Gaza http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/middle_east/article2363296.ece (Mohammed
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      August 31, 2007

      Protesters beaten in anti-Hamas rally in Gaza

      Members of the Hamas Executive Force shout at protesters in Gaza today

      (Mohammed Salem/Reuters)

      Members of the Hamas Executive Force shout at protesters in Gaza today

      Times Online and agencies

      Thousands of Palestinians, spurred on by the Fatah movement of President Mahmoud Abbas, protested against the rule of Hamas in the Gaza Strip today, leading to violent clashes that left about a dozen people injured.

      In the largest display of popular unrest since the Islamist group took over Gaza by force in June, demonstrations spilt from Friday prayers across the crowded coastal territory. The rallies quickly turned to brawls, as Hamas militiamen beat protesters with sticks and took others off in cars.

      In Gaza City, Imam Ashraf Zayyan preached a sermon in favour of national unity — the Palestinian territories are presently divided between a Hamas-controlled Gaza and a Fatah-ruled West Bank — prompting hundreds to take to the streets, denouncing the former Hamas Prime Minister, Ismail Haniya, and throwing stones and improvised explosives at Hamas-controlled buildings.

      “Oh Haniya, oh wretched one! Go away!” shouted demonstrators. Others insulted Hamas for its links to Shia groups in Lebanon and Iran: “Shias, murderers!”

      Members of Hamas's "Executive Force" militia used stun grenades and truncheons to drive off the protesters. Two European television journalists were caught up in the fighting and injured slightly when a stun grenade was thrown into the crowd.

      To the south, in Rafah, the strategic town that lies on the border with Israel, nearly 5,000 people attended outdoor prayers before some started throwing stones at Hamas gunmen. The Executive Force fired stun grenades in return, wounding ten people, a medic and witnesses said.

      In the West Bank, the Fatah-led Government of President Abbas, which has no control over Gaza, said that the demonstrations showed the unpopular nature of the Hamas regime. “What happened in Gaza shows once again that Hamas staged a coup d’état with the goal of imposing a blind dictatorship and its extremist ideology,” it said in a statement.

      A Hamas security spokesman said that stun grenades and pipe bombs were used by the protesters rather than its militias. Ihab al-Ghusain said: “Rioting is unacceptable in the law . . . they had to be contained in anyway possible, according to the law”.

      Today's protests followed similar, lower-key Fatah demonstrations last Friday. Showing the increasing volatility of Gaza, Hamas banned outdoor prayers on August 13 on religious grounds, but many believe the ban was an attempt to stop prayer meetings turning into political rallies. Human rights groups have criticised the new rule, calling it a curb on civil liberties.

      Hamas security officials also tried to prevent today's protests by sending text messages to mobile phones across the territory. “You don’t deserve to be hit, arrested or killed for a corrupt gang that you know well,” said the message, referring to Fatah.

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