Hamas Shuts Down Gaza Literary Festival, Only to Later Apologize

Palestinian rights group says armed Hamas men cut off electricity, confiscate cameras; festival's website says security officials apologized for the incident, calling it an ' individual error.'

A leading Palestinian human rights group has condemned the Gaza Strip's Hamas government on Thursday for violently breaking up a Palestinian literature festival.

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights said that armed Hamas men cut off electricity, confiscated cameras and dispersed the Palestine Festival of Literature near Gaza City. Participants said that speakers at Wednesday night's gathering had been critical of Hamas.

Hamas police - AP - 30.3.2012

A number of Arab poets, writers and bloggers attended the conference. Among the participants was Alaa Abdel Fattah, a prominent Egyptian blogger who played a major role in last year's uprising in the country.

According to a post on the festival's website, however, Hamas officials delivered a personal apology to festival organizers three hours after the shutdown, claiming the incident was an "individual error."

The post stated Hamas' chief of police, his deputy and a colonel in the Interior Ministry visited the hotel to which festival participants returned following the incident, telling them that they have opened an investigation into what happened, and that festival volunteers would be safe.

In addition, the post on the official festival website added that the Hamas officials vowed to return any personal effects that had been left behind due to confusion, adding that the event would "always be welcome in Gaza."

Huwaida Arraf, a Palestinian American human rights activist and lawyer and co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement, tweeted "Shame on Hamas-run police for shutting down #PalFestGaza. Utterly despicable behavior."