Rare protests erupt against Hamas’ 12-year rule over Gaza

This photo provided by Palestinian journalist Osama al-Kahlout shows a protestor holding a sign that reads in Arabic, "I want to live in dignity; I'm wounded and need treatment and a salary," during a protest in Deir al Balah, central Gaza Strip, on Friday, March 15, 2019. (Osama al-Kahlout via AP)
Updated 19 March 2019
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Rare protests erupt against Hamas’ 12-year rule over Gaza

  • Unemployment is over 50 percent and much higher for young university graduates
  • Tap water is undrinkable, electricity is limited and travel abroad severely restricted

GAZA CITY: Hamas is facing the biggest demonstrations yet against its 12-year rule of the Gaza Strip, with hundreds of Palestinians taking to the streets in recent days to protest the dire living conditions in the blockaded territory.
With little tolerance for dissent, the militant group has responded with heavy-handed tactics. It has arrested dozens of protesters, beaten activists and violently suppressed attempts by local media to cover the unrest.
Hamas has accused the rival West Bank-based Palestinian Authority of orchestrating the protests — a charge that organizers vehemently reject.
“There is no political agenda at all,” said Amin Abed, 30, an organizer who has been forced into hiding. “We simply want to live in dignity,” he said by telephone. “We just ask Hamas to ease the economic hardships and tax burdens.”
Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007 from the forces of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Israel and Egypt imposed a blockade, a step meant to prevent Hamas from arming.
The blockade, and three wars with Israel, have ravaged Gaza’s economy but done nothing to loosen Hamas’ grip on power.
Unemployment is over 50 percent and much higher for young university graduates like Abed. Tap water is undrinkable, electricity is limited and travel abroad severely restricted. Hamas’ cash-strapped government recently raised taxes on basic goods like bread, beans and cigarettes.
Protesters accuse Hamas of corruption and imposing the hefty taxes to enrich itself. They used social media to organize protests last week with the slogan “We want to live!”
The protests come just as Hamas marks the one-year anniversary of its weekly demonstrations along the frontier with Israel. The demonstrations, aimed largely at easing the blockade, have accomplished little, even as some 190 Palestinians have been killed and thousands wounded by Israeli fire.
This is not the first time people have taken to the streets against Hamas. Two years ago, protesters demonstrated against the chronic power cuts on a cold January day before Hamas violently dispersed them. This time around, the sporadic rallies have continued for five days, despite a similarly violent response.
“These protests were the largest, the longest and the most violent in terms of Hamas’ suppression,” said Mkhaimar Abusada, political science professor at Gaza’s Al-Azhar University.
“This was a message of anger to Hamas that the situation is unbearable and that it must reconsider all its policies,” he added.
On Monday, Amnesty International reported that hundreds of protesters have been beaten, arbitrarily arrested, tortured and subjected to ill-treatment. Journalists and human rights workers, including a researcher for the London-based organization, were also roughed up, Amnesty said.
“The crackdown on freedom of expression and the use of torture in Gaza has reached alarming new levels,” said Amnesty’s Middle East deputy director Saleh Higazi.
Osama Al-Kahlout, a journalist with the local news site Donia Al-Wattan, last week published a photo of a protester on crutches raising a sign that said “I want to live in dignity.” The next day, he was detained as he went live on Facebook during another protest.
Al-Kahlout said police smashed furniture, seized his belongings and beat him on the way to the police station. “I’m a journalist,” he said. “I don’t regret covering it.”
He said he was released after a meeting with the police chief in which officials “advised” journalists not to cover the protests.
Heba el-Buhissi, 31, who filmed the raids at her family home, said a policeman fired a warning shot in the air as others cursed and yelled at her after she started filming. Her videos show a group of Hamas police beating her cousin with wooden batons.
Other amateur videos have shown protesters burning tires and hurling stones toward Hamas forces. Hamas gunmen can be seen jumping out of vehicles and beating people with clubs. Other videos show Hamas going door to door and carrying out mass arrests.
El-Buhissi filmed the incident last Thursday when she saw Hamas dispersing some of her neighbors who had hoisted banners against tax hikes. Her family opened the home to allow youths to escape the police.
“This is what drove the police crazy, and that’s why they stormed our houses,” she said. “I felt I have to film to prove what was going on.”
The Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists reported Monday that 42 Palestinian journalists “were targeted” by Hamas forces in the past five days. The abuses included physical assaults, summons, threats, home arrests and seizure of equipment.
The official Palestinian Authority news agency Wafa reported Monday that the spokesman of Abbas’ Fatah movement in Gaza, Atef Abu Saif, was badly beaten by Hamas.
It showed pictures of Abu Said with a bandaged leg, bruises and blood-stained clothes lying on a hospital bed.
Ammar Dwaik, director of the Independent Commission for Human Rights in Gaza, said Hamas forces have dispersed 25 protests with excessive force and arrested about 1,000 people. He said some 300 people remain in custody.
“This is worst crackdown in Gaza since the Hamas takeover in 2007 in terms of its scope and cruelty,” Dwaik said.
On Tuesday, Hamas issued a brief statement “rejecting the use of violence and repression against any Palestinian for practicing his legitimate right of expression.”
But Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas official, used tougher language in a Twitter post, accusing Israel and the Palestinian Authority of conspiring to organize protests. “The attempts of the Palestinian Authority and the occupation to drive a wedge between the people and the resistance have failed,” he said.
The demonstrations appeared to subside on Monday, but organizers say the protests will continue until Hamas cancels taxes on dozens of goods, creates a national employment program and releases everyone who has been arrested in the crackdown.
Abed, the protest leader, said Hamas has stormed his family’s house and delivered an arrest warrant for him to his father.
“Hamas doesn’t want us to scream. It wants us to die in silence,” he said.


Lebanon arrests Syrian plotting Daesh bomb attacks on churches

Updated 17 June 2019
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Lebanon arrests Syrian plotting Daesh bomb attacks on churches

  • Security forces say suspect was ‘active on social media spreading ideology and recruiting people’ for Daesh
  • Army commander: We are dealing with an unconventional terrorist enemy hiding among people

BEIRUT: A Syrian national has been arrested in southern Lebanon on suspicion of involvement with the Daesh terrorist group. It is alleged he discussed with other people potential locations, including churches, for attacks in Lebanon where the largest numbers of people could be targeted and killed.

It is thought that they were aiming to emulate similar Easter attacks in Sri Lanka. Daesh leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi released a video message in April in which he praised the Sri Lankan terrorists.

A security source confirmed that a Syrian man has been detained and investigations are continuing. He added that the arrest “came on the basis of a professional intelligence operation” and that the security forces are working with external parties.

The General Directorate of Internal Security Forces (ISF) said that as a result of “preventive and proactive security operations conducted by the Information Division of the ISF concerning the monitoring of activities of serious terrorist cells, especially those affiliated with Daesh, the division was able to monitor and identify a resident of southern Lebanon who was active on social media spreading the ideology of the organization and recruiting people for it.”

It continued: “A special force from the Information Division arrested a person named Z.M. who was born in 1999 and is a Syrian residing in the town of Yater. The investigation found that he was promoting the ideology of Daesh through social media by creating a large number of channels and groups on a number of applications that follow and publicize publications of the Daesh organization.”

Yater is a village near Tyre in Southern Lebanon. Locals said that Z.M. was arrested six days ago. He worked in construction and agriculture and lived alone in a house without a family, they added.
The ISF said that the man “was associated with people outside Lebanon and cooperated with them to establish online groups to spread and promote Daesh ideology. After publishing the video in which Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi blessed the operations in Sri Lanka...the detainee bought spray paint and...sprayed on one of the walls at the entrance to Yater slogans containing the words ‘Grandson of Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi’ and ‘The Islamic state.’”

Preliminary ISF investigations found that the detainee “discussed with a number of those he communicated with the idea of carrying out actions for the organization in Lebanon, including entering a church and killing the largest number of people there.

“He also discussed with them the idea of targeting husseiniyas (congregation halls for Shiite ceremonies) in Shiite villages and towns. He also logged on to jihadist websites of the organization on the internet, including encyclopedias giving details of how to make explosives, and downloaded them to his phone.”

The ISF also said that the detainee “communicated with the Syrian S.B. (born in 1990), who has also been arrested, and tried to recruit him to embrace the ideology of Daesh. He said that at the time of his arrest he was still in the process of planning and had not taken any practical steps.”
The security source did not specify whether Z.M. is a Syrian refugee, a laborer working under the sponsorship of a Lebanese citizen, or in the country illegally. However, he stressed: “What this person did has nothing to do with Syrian refugees in Lebanon.”

Lebanese army commander Gen. Joseph Aoun said on Monday: “The army is dealing today with an unconventional terrorist enemy hiding among people, where the complexities are many and unclear.”

He added: “The rapid response of the (security) units to the terrorist attack in Tripoli recently confirms the importance of the principles that we learn in the College of Command and Staff.

“Terrorism is waiting for opportunities, through sleeper cells, to spread hatred in society. However, the improvement and readiness of the intelligence community has thwarted many of these attempts, and those that managed to evade them were eliminated by other security units.”