West Bank protests over Gaza muted by helplessness

RAMALLAH (Reuters) – Palestinians in the occupied West Bank protested on Friday against Israel’s full-scale offensive against Gaza, but the demonstrations were divided, short, and relatively muted.

The death toll in the two-week onslaught, now 783, has stunned West Bank Palestinians, eclipsing an internal quarrel between those ready to recognize Israel in return for statehood and those, like Gaza’s Hamas fighters, who are determined to continue armed resistance.

Around 4,000 people protested in Ramallah after the Muslim noon prayer. Supporters of Hamas, the Islamic movement which controls Gaza, said Fatah-dominated police of the Palestinian Authority tried to intimidate them.

Police fired tea gas to disperse Hamas supporters in the crowd who taunted them as “Jews” and “collaborators” of Israel.

The protest broke up after an hour.

West Bank Palestinians feel helpless, and are angry with their own security forces for trying to suppress public emotion.

“We don’t understand the Authority’s great concern that the protests could turn chaotic. Why do the security services take measures that provoke the people?” asked one protester.

“There is overwhelming solidarity with the people in Gaza and a mounting sentiment of resistance, but this doesn’t mean people sympathize with Hamas,” said Adi al-Hindi, a leftwing activist taking part in the Ramallah protest.

Two years of infighting had divided the people and sown intolerance, he said, and Palestinian democracy was threatened.

In Hebron, 5,000 Palestinians marched in support of Hamas in an area off-limits to Palestinian police. Abbas’s security forces had twice in the past banned proposed demonstrations in the part of Hebron they control.

Protesters burned the blue-and-white Israeli flag and chanted: “(Palestinian President Mahmoud) Abbas, you should know, Hebron is with Hamas.”

“The feeling is very bad. We in the West Bank can do nothing for the people in Gaza. We just watch people get killed,” said Mohammad Hamdan, a 22-year-old law student.

“I don’t support Hamas but I want to take part in the protests to release the pressure. Protests in the Palestinian Authority territories are prevented and we’re not happy about this.”

Israel launched its offensive on December 27 after Hamas, declaring that Israel had violated its pledge to ease the blockade of Gaza, called off a 6-month truce and stepped up daily salvoes of rockets into southern Israeli towns.

Israeli soldiers fired tear gas and stun grenades to break up the Hebron protest. One Palestinian was seriously injured by a rubber bullet and several were treated for gas inhalation.

In Nablus, about 700 protested. Some carried pictures of Abbas, but 30 women bore the green banners of Hamas. There were no clashes.

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