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Gaza Protests Struggle to Gain Traction as Police Crack Down

Security forces in the Gaza Strip prevented protesters from holding rallies across the territory on Monday, quelling a rare expression of dissent against Hamas, the authoritarian Islamist group that controls the territory.

For the third time in recent days, protest leaders had called for demonstrations — but a heavy police presence throughout the territory deterred efforts to gather in large numbers.

The failed effort followed more successful rallies last week, when several hundred Gazans — an unusually high number given the limits on free expression — evaded police interventions to march through several neighborhoods. But, a second attempt to hold demonstrations on Friday was also prevented by large numbers of police, who detained several journalists attempting to cover the protests.

The protest organizers — some of them Palestinians based abroad — said the attempted demonstrations were mainly a reaction against Hamas’s authoritarian rule, as well as its failure to improve dire living conditions.

Hamas captured the Gaza Strip in 2007 from the secular Palestinian leadership, prompting Israel and Egypt to place the territory under a blockade to stymie the flow of arms to the group.

The blockade restricts the importing of goods, including electronic and computer equipment, that could be used to make weapons and prevents most people from leaving the territory.

The restrictions have helped undermine the economy in Gaza, where more than 2 million people live in one of the world’s most crowded territories. Last year, the unemployment rate was higher than 45 percent. Only 10 percent of residents have direct access to clean water, according to a UNICEF analysis from 2020; electricity works for only several hours a day; and many complex medical procedures are not available.

Hamas says that the blockade is wholly to blame for the situation, a view shared by many Gazans. Israel and Egypt control how much fuel enters the territory, for instance, which affects how much electricity the Gazan power plant can provide.

But some feel Hamas itself is at least partly at fault because of its poor governance. The group is frequently accused of nepotism and corruption, and of focusing too much on military operations instead of economic and infrastructure projects. Public anger has also been spurred by the fact that many senior Hamas officials, including its leader Ismail Haniyeh, live in safer conditions outside of the Gaza Strip.

Frustrations were further compounded by an unusual surge in power outages during the July heat wave, as well as a decision by the authorities to demolish an unauthorized recent addition to a building in southern Gaza. The owner was buried under rubble during the demolition, killing him and setting off an outcry.

“All of these people went out to demand their rights and their daily bread,” said Jasser Barbakh, a protester who broadcast part of a demonstration on July 30 from his social media account. “These people you can see went out for their livelihoods and their electricity.”

Some anger has also been directed at Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian Authority, the administration that controlled the strip until Hamas captured it in 2007. The authority is also widely accused of corruption and of failing to do enough to improve the situation in Gaza, where it still pays the salaries of several thousand government officials.

“O Haniyeh, O Abbas, we want a decent life,” some protesters were filmed chanting last week.

Hamas leaders have said the protests were not genuine expressions of local dissent, and were instead organized by collaborators with Israel.

“The outsiders and the collaborator agitators have been disappointed,” a Hamas spokesman, Salah al-Bardawil, wrote on social media after the police successfully prevented protests on Friday.

“The sick agitators’ storm in a teacup against Gaza has died,” he added.

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Mohammad SHiblu

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