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Palestinians react with shock at PA repression of protest in solidarity with Gaza

Demonstrators had denounced 'shameful' PA sanctions in Gaza; activists vow that protests will continue after Eid al-Fitr
Palestinians take part in a protest demanding to lift the sanctions on Gaza Strip in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah on 13 June (Reuters)

Palestinians reacted with anger and condemnation on Thursday to Palestinian Authority (PA) national security forces violently repressing a protest the night before in the West Bank city of Ramallah, during which demonstrators had demanded to lift punitive PA measures on the Gaza Strip.

PA security forces used sound grenades and tear gas and shot bullets into the air to disperse protesters, also confiscating cameras and smartphones, damaging several while ordering journalists not to interview demonstrators.

The forces also arrested 46 protesters, according to the human rights centre Addameer, none of whom had been released at the time of publication.

Around 10 protesters were hospitalised, only to have their IDs confiscated by the police.

On Tuesday, just a day before the planned demonstration, the PA had banned all forms of protests until the end of Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday at the end of the month of Ramadan, on Friday.

Protesters accused the PA of threatening and attempting to intimidate activists participating in the 'Campaign to Lift PA Sanctions on Gaza'.

The PA has not officially commented on Wednesday's events.

Meanwhile, the PA had also called for a counter-protest in the northern West Bank city of Nablus to "pledge allegiance to President Abbas", and to "push back infiltrators and the US paid outside actors."

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Rula Abu Dahu, the spokeswoman of the Campaign to Lift PA Sanctions on Gaza, told Middle East Eye that the PA was collectively punishing Gazans.

"Of course, the Israeli occupation, which controls land, sea and air, is responsible for the situation in Gaza. But we will not accept PA's sanctions on top of the Israeli siege."

Abu Dahu said that Wednesday's demonstration was the first major Palestinian protest against the Palestinian Authority's actions in Gaza.

"Palestinians protest against the Israeli occupation. But people are killed in Gaza by Israeli snipers, and you have the PA imposed sanctions on our brothers and sisters in Gaza. It is unacceptable and shameful," Abu Dahu added.

'Dayton's forces'

Palestinians on social media called the security forces who crushed Wednesday's protests "Dayton's forces", and accused them of being an arm of both the Israeli military occupation and an extension of PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ efforts to crush political dissent in the West Bank.

The term was an allusion to Keith Dayton, the former US security coordinator for Israel and the PA. Dayton retired in 2010 from his mission after spending five years rebuilding the National Security Forces, which in essence serves as the Palestinian Authority's army.

Under Dayton command, 3,100 of the more than 40,000 members of the PA security forces were trained in military camps in Jordan. MEE has not found solid evidence that the officers operating in Ramallah on Wednesday night were in fact trained by Dayton.

One social media user called the PA a "bunch of corrupt fascists protected by security forces with the gang mentality of Blackwater. These people are completely detached from the reality of the rest of the Palestinian people."

The Gaza Strip, which is currently governed by the Hamas movement, has been under an Israeli-Egyptian siege since 2007, after political tension between Fatah and Hamas developed into military clashes which led Hamas to expel Fatah figures from the enclave.

Palestinians in Gaza, where some 80 percent of the population is dependent on foreign aid to survive, have felt the consequences of this internal Palestinian political conflict.

This week's protests come more than a month after the Palestinian Authority cut in half the salaries of its estimated 50,000 employees in the Gaza Strip without warning.

Last summer, the PA stopped paying for Gaza’s electricity, leaving the enclave’s residents with only two hours of electricity a day - compared to a paltry eight hours previously.

Abu Dahu said that the PA has always tried to depict the sanctions on Gaza as punitive measures against Hamas.

"I refuse to engage with this argument of a Fatah and Hamas conflict, because if look closely, you will see that the PA cuts salaries of employees that belong to Fatah in Gaza, not Hamas." Abu Dahu said. "Those who they are actually punishing are normal people."

Translation: The members of the Fatah movement who participated in the repression yesterday entered the protest with white caps on which there were a kuffiyeh and the slogan of the Storm (Fatah special forces):"Abu Ammar (former PA President Yasser Arafat) said it... we are Fatah's men". The video shows them repressing and arresting of one of the demonstration participants before turning him over to security forces. #Liftthesanctions

Palestinian factions including the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and Hamas, as well as Palestinian journalist and lawyer syndicates, have issued statements condemning the violence used against protesters.

Jama Jumaa, a Palestinian activist who participated in the protest, told MEE that demonstrators were demanding what the Palestinian National Council, which last held a session in April, had already agreed upon.

"The national council headed by Abbas agreed to lift the PA sanctions on people in Gaza, which is what the protesters demand," he said.

"But this shows you that the Palestinian Liberation Organisation's national council is just a facade for the PA, which has the final say on the sanctions."

Jumaa added that the protests would continue after the Eid al-Fitr holiday.

"The PA's forces acted in a brutal, thuggish and dictatorial way last night. Everyone is shocked. The way the security forces behaved goes against the history of the Palestinian struggle," Jumaa said.

He added that Palestinian activists were studying a campaign to ask people to stop dealing with PA forces - include police, intelligence, presidential guards, and the national forces.

He said that the campaign would specifically ask European countries to stop funding these forces.

"The US and Europe are the main funders of these forces, but 30 percent of their budget comes from taxes paid by Palestinians in the West Bank."

The Campaign to Lift PA Sanctions on Gaza also condemned the PA's use of force and the continued implementation of sanctions.

“These sanctions are daggers placed in the heart of our cause and our unity. This is a dagger which accentuates division and political and social rifts. Such acts on behalf of the PA towards Gaza are further widening the internal political split between the two ruling parties of the West Bank and Gaza,” it said in a statement.

The protests come at a difficult time for 83-year-old 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 US President Donald Trump's administration because of its pro-Israel bias which has seen it recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and seek to push a so-called “deal of the century” peace settlement on the PA leadership through pressure exerted via Saudi Arabia.

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