Thu, Mar 17, 2011 - Page 6 News List

Thousands rally in Gaza and West Bank for unity

AFP, GAZA CITY

Thousands of Palestinians rallied in Gaza City and the West Bank on Tuesday in a mass show of strength to call for an end to the division in their national movement.

However, the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank rejected a fresh invitation from the rival Hamas rulers in Gaza to hold talks on healing the schism.

The largest demonstration was in Gaza City, where officials from the Hamas-run interior ministry said “tens of thousands” had packed into the city’s Square of the Unknown Soldier.

As the protesters demanded that the warring Hamas and Fatah movements patch up their differences, Gaza’s Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniya publicly invited his Fatah rival, Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas, for “immediate” unity talks in Gaza.

“I invite the president, brother Abu Mazen [Abbas], and Fatah to an immediate meeting here in Gaza ... to start national dialogue in order to achieve reconciliation,” Haniya said in a live broadcast after an emergency meeting of his government.

However, after a late-night meeting in Ramallah, the Fatah-dominated executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization rejected the offer, calling it an attempt to defuse the grassroots unity initiative.

“[The committee] rejects the repression of this movement under the pretext of leaving questions of unity to political leaders,” it said in a statement, adding that the only solution lay in elections, reiterating remarks Abbas made earlier on Tuesday.

“I am with the people and in favor of going back to the people to put an end to the divisions through presidential and parliamentary elections,” he said after talks in Ramallah with Cypriot President Demetris Christofias.

In Gaza City, demonstrators waving Palestinian flags yelled, “No to division!” and “Revolution, revolution until we end the division!”

The Gaza protests were marred by clashes between dozens of Hamas supporters and hundreds of others in which stones were thrown and three people were wounded, witnesses and a reporter said.

Earlier, Fatah members locked horns with a group of Hamas activists carrying their own green flags and shouting slogans.

Later in the day, several thousand people left the main square to continue their demonstration, in a protest about Hamas and other political groups co-opting the movement, one of the organizers said.

They were dispersed by baton-wielding Hamas security forces.

In the West Bank city of Ramallah, Abbas’ security forces arrested four protesters and another four people, among them two women, protest organizers said in a statement.

The rallies, called by the March 15 protest movement, were planned through Facebook by young activists demanding an end to the rift.

Throughout the day, around 7,000 people demonstrated in the West Bank, with around 3,000 in Ramallah, 2,000 in the northern city of Nablus and similar numbers in Hebron, correspondents said.

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