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Hamas and PA continue to 'arbitrarily' detain, silence critics: HRW

Palestinian Authority and Hamas are 'unified in common approach to crushing dissent', Human Rights Watch says
PA detained more than 1,600 people for nonviolent speech in 15-month period, report says (AFP/File photo)

Both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas have continued to "arbitrarily arrest" peaceful protesters and critics, according to new report by Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Released on Wednesday, the report said the "systematic practice" of "arbitrary arrest and torture" persists in both the West Bank, where the PA retains limited control over Palestinian areas, and the Hamas-governed Gaza Strip.

The PA detained more than 1,600 people for non-violent speech between January 2018 and March of this year, HRW found, while Hamas arrested more than 1,000 people during opposition protests in the Gaza Strip in March alone.

Eric Goldstein, HRW's deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, said that despite the ongoing rivalry between the PA and Hamas, the two authorities remain "unified in a common approach to crushing dissent".

"Leaders who have been in power for more than a decade without elections should at the very least listen to criticism, not punish it," Goldstein said in the report.

Both Hamas and the PA responded to HRW's requests for information regarding the detention of activists, but denied the claim that security forces took part in arbitrary arrests and torture.

Authorities in Gaza told HRW that protesters were detained for holding demonstrations without proper permits and vandalising property, among other things. They added that all but nine of the detainees were released within 48 hours.

Hamas also maintains that opposition protests in the Gaza Strip were led by individuals paid by PA intelligence services to incite "chaos".

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HRW's latest report comes more than six months after the rights group accused both Hamas and the PA of "systematically" using arbitrary arrests and torture to quash dissent.

In its statement on Wednesday, the group said that it had not documented "any apparent change" in that practice, despite its ongoing pressure campaign.

Relations between the PA and Hamas have been tense since 2017, when the two failed to form a unity government to bring the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip under one authority.

Since then the PA has cut electricity supplies to the besieged coastal territory and stopped paying the salaries of its employees in Gaza.

Palestinian authorities in Gaza and the West Bank do not control their borders, the economy or their own security because of Israel's continued siege and occupation of their territories.