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Ramallah residents were shocked on Friday when a protest against the Israeli offensive in Gaza was forcibly dispersed by Palestinian Authority security forces using tear gas and clubs. Youth from the Fatah movement assisted security forces in breaking up a rally of solidarity with the Palestinian faction's rival Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Fatah said the protest was dispersed because Hamas supporters waved flags identified with the Islamic group, violating an agreement to only display symbols not affiliated with any party.

Witnesses who are not members of either Palestinian faction said Fatah youth provoked the clash by shouting slogans supporting Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as the protesters left a mosque. Demonstrators responded by shouting Hamas slogans, prompting security forces to intervene.

"Welcome to Dayton country," a teary-eyed female Palestinian protester shouted, referring to U.S. General Keith Dayton who trained the PA security forces that dispersed the crowd.

Ties between the two Palestinian factions have been severed since 2007 when Hamas forcibly took control of the Gaza Strip from the Palestinian Authority, which is associated with Fatah.

Since the start of the IDF's operation in Gaza, the PA government has decided to suppress demonstrations supporting Hamas in the area under its control in the West Bank. Last week, PA forces dispersed demonstrators marching toward an Israel Defense Forces roadblock near Jerusalem. Meanwhile, a large contingent of security forces is preventing protesters from going near the PA's government center in Ramallah. Plain-clothes policemen have been stationed around town to keep protesters under surveillance.

According to Palestinian sources, Hamas activists demonstrated in areas under Israel's security control because they were barred from holding the protest in areas under the control of the PA. Some 20 participants in the protest were hurt in clashes with Israeli troops. Last week an initiative to hold a joint protest by Hamas and Fatah against Israel was abandoned after the IDF arrested a senior Hamas member involved in its organization.