Hamas Worried Upheaval in Arab World Will Spill Into Gaza

Gaza police disperse rally showing solidarity with Egyptian protesters; several thousand join Facebook group calling for a protest against Hamas rule in the Strip.

Avi Issacharoff
Avi Issacharoff
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Avi Issacharoff
Avi Issacharoff

Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip are concerned about the effects of the upheaval in the Arab world, as Facebook messages call on Gaza residents to demonstrate against Hamas rule on Friday.

Palestinians holding posters during a Hamas rally in Gaza City to show support for the Tunisian people January 16, 2011. Credit: Reuters

Several thousand people have joined the Facebook group calling for a protest against Hamas rule in the Gaza Strip. Another Facebook group is calling for protests against the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Far fewer people have expressed interest in that page, but Palestinian leaders in the West Bank also recognize that the protests in Tunisia and Egypt could spill over into Palestinian territory.

In what seems to be an effort to hold off possible demonstrations, PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said the Palestinian Authority will hold municipal elections in the near future, and senior Fatah officials said they are considering general elections as well.

In Gaza City, Hamas police used force earlier this week to disperse a small rally showing solidarity with Egyptian protesters. Police officers dressed in civilian clothing arrested six women and detained some 20 others, according to Human Rights Watch.

The women were taken to a police station, where policewomen insulted them and slapped one of them during an interrogation, according to the report. The protesters were told not to demonstrate again without Hamas police authorization.

The Egyptian protests have also had other effects on the Palestinians.

A delegation of senior Hamas figures who had been scheduled to leave Gaza on Sunday to travel through Egypt and hold talks with the exiled Hamas leadership in Damascus were unable to leave the Strip because Egyptian authorities shut down the Rafah crossing. The Hamas officials were supposed to discuss a possible deal for the release of captive Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit.

Also as a result of the upheaval in Egypt, several Palestinians held in Egyptian jails have escaped to the Gaza Strip, or are making their way there. Unconfirmed reports state that Ayman Nofal, a senior figure in the military wing of Hamas, is one of the escaped prisoners.

The events in Egypt are also expected to affect the standing of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who is considered to be a friend of Egypt's Hosni Mubarak. If Mubarak steps down as president, it will be a political blow for Abbas.

Mubarak is considered the informal patron of the PA, while Syrian President Bashar Assad is the patron of Hamas.

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