Hundreds of Palestinians have gathered in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah to demonstrate against President Mahmoud Abbas, hoping to inject new momentum into a protest movement sparked by the death of an outspoken critic in the custody of security forces.
Palestinian security forces and groups of men in plainclothes violently dispersed a similar protest a week ago, drawing expressions of concern from the United States and the United Nations human rights chief. There were no immediate reports of violence at Saturday’s demonstration.
The Palestinian Authority (PA) was established as part of the peace process in the 1990s and governs parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
It has grown increasingly domineering and unpopular, and Abbas cancelled the first elections in 15 years in April when it looked like his fractured Fatah party would lose.
During an escalation in violence in May between Hamas, the Palestinian group which governs the besieged Gaza Strip, and Israel, Abbas was largely sidelined amid an outpouring of support for Hamas.
Saturday’s demonstration began with a few hundred protesters gathering in al-Manara Square in central Ramallah, the PA headquarters.
The mother of Nizar Banat, the activist whose death last month sparked the protests, and other family members were welcomed with applause and gave brief speeches.
The crowd then made a loop through downtown, gathering force as it marched until thousands could be heard chanting “The people want the fall of the regime,” and “Abbas, leave,” slogans used during the so-called Arab Spring protests that swept the Middle East in 2011.
Reporting from Ramallah, Al Jazeera’s Nida Ibrahim said that although police forces are usually stationed at protests in the occupied West Bank, there were no visible forces during Saturday’s demonstration.
“We are hearing though that there are riot police in the streets around the square and streets leading to the presidential headquarters. If the protesters try to head to the presidential headquarters, they might be met by force.
“We’ve seen a violent crackdown on protests last week against the death of PA critic Nizar Banat” said Ibrahim, adding that the international community has condemned this crackdown on demonstrators.
The Fatah party, which is led by Abbas and dominates the PA, meanwhile held a rally in the southern West Bank city of Hebron in which supporters waved the party’s trademark yellow flags. The PA’s official Palestine TV covered the Hebron rally and ignored the demonstration in Ramallah.
Show of force by Fatah in Hebron. Counterprotest to Nizar Banat demo in Ramallah. pic.twitter.com/metJXyYGZs
— Neri Zilber (@NeriZilber) July 3, 2021
State Department spokesman Ned Price said earlier this week that the US was “deeply disturbed by reports that non-uniformed members of the Palestinian Authority security forces harassed and used force against protesters and journalists” during last weekend’s demonstrations.
Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said Thursday that Palestinian security forces had beaten protesters with batons and attacked them with tear gas and stun grenades. She said they appeared to have singled out female demonstrators, reporters and bystanders, many of whom said they were sexually harassed.
She called on the PA “to ensure freedom of opinion, expression and peaceful assembly”.