The security forces of the Palestinian Authority have banned holding any demonstrations or protests until the end of the three-day Id al-Fitr holiday marking the end of the Ramadan month of fasting.
The PA said it does not want such disruptions to ruin the holiday celebrations. The last day of the fast is Thursday and the celebrations will begin Thursday evening after sunset. The announcement was made on Tuesday on the website of Wafa, the official Palestine News Agency.
The Palestinian cabinet met a few hours before the announcement, condemning the demonstrations Sunday and Tuesday that called for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to end the steps taken to punish the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip.
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The demonstrations are diverting attention from the responsibility of Israel and Hamas for the situation in Gaza, the government announcement said.
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Nevertheless, the organizers held another demonstration on Wednesday night in Ramallah, as planned, and there were clashes with Palestinian security forces.
The anti-riot division of the Palestinian police used tear gas and stun grenades to put down the demonstration. Individuals whom protesters identified as members of the security forces and Fatah party supporters infiltrated the demonstrators and fomented scuffles, witnesses said.
Security forces chased protesters and, according to one report, also hit several of them. Demonstrators said that it reminded them of scenes in Egypt in which protests against now-deposed President Hosni Mubarak were put down. Witnesses said security forces also prevented journalists from conducting interviews and from taking pictures.
The number of protesters on Wednesday was lower than Sunday, apparently following a Palestinian Authority statement that it was banning protests. The fear of violence also apparently dissuaded people from attending.
In advance of the latest demonstration, a statement distributed by the organizers reported that they had been subject to a slander campaign on social media, which was said to have included threats and intimidation and to have presented them as outside agitators
.A video opposing the demonstrators claimed that they supported Hamas and foreigners whose aim was to inflict harm on the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian president. The video also attacked civil society groups for receiving funds from the United States.
Protest organizers claim the PA itself distributed the video. Hamas accused the PA of silencing critics so that it could continue to pursue its current policy.
The organizers said they were told by activists from the Fatah movement that the initiative to ban the demonstrations came from the security forces, not President Abbas' Fatah party. The organizers said that on Tuesday, senior PA officials met with representatives of the security forces and decided not to send uniformed police officers to the demonstration on Wednesday, but instead to disperse the security officers in plainclothes among the protesters – whether to outshout them with different slogans or to be able to surprise and arrest protesters. Ultimately, however, uniformed police were also dispatched to the scene.
The participants at the meeting also raised the possibility of holding a counter-demonstration arranged by the PA in support of Abbas. Both methods have been used by the PA in the past in the face of protests against it.
Public figures and journalists who support removing the sanctions that the PA has imposed on the Gaza Strip and Hamas turned to their contacts inside the PA and its security forces, asking them to put an end to the incitement against the protesters and avoid using violence against them.
The organizers have also called on journalists to be careful when they interview protesters to ensure the demonstrators are not imposters sent by the government. Despite warnings from the PA, the group’s Facebook site, named “The sanctions against Gaza are a crime,” called on the public to come and demonstrate Wednesday evening.
Other Palestinian factions protested the PA’s decision to ban demonstrations, in particular Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, describing the ban as patently illegal and motivated by the desire of the PA’s security forces to silence the public.
“The iron fist of the PA and its security forces will not succeed in stopping the nonviolent demonstrations,” a statement from the PFLP said, while Hamas said the decision proves that the PA is determined to silence the protest against the sanctions on Gaza in order to continue with them.
Civil rights organizations also called for a cancellation of the ban and supported the demonstration Wednesday night in Ramallah after the end of the day’s fast.
Until this week, the demonstrations in the West Bank were concentrated near Israeli checkpoints and the seam line, and focused on expressing anger against Israel. But things changed this week and the PA began identifying signs of internal protests against the sanctions imposed on Gaza because of the growing distress there, including that of PA officials in Gaza.
Hamas has called frequently to hold protest marches in the West Bank in addition to the Gaza Strip, but in practice only a number of small confrontations have occurred every weekend in a few places, and not the mass protests Hamas expected – and Hamas has not hidden its disappointment.