Angry demonstrators clashed with Palestinian security forces during a third day of protests in the occupied West Bank over the death of an outspoken critic of the Palestinian Authority (PA) who died while in PA custody.
Hundreds gathered in the city of Ramallah – the headquarters of the PA – to chant slogans against President Mahmoud Abbas, two days after Abbas’s forces arrested activist Nizar Banat.
According to Banat’s family, two dozen officers beat him on the head with batons and metal rods. His death was confirmed a few hours after his arrest.
The protesters held Palestinian flags and posters of Banat, and called on the 85-year-old Abbas to quit. “The people want to overthrow the regime,” they chanted, along with, “step down, Abbas!”
“We want a total political reform that will truly reflect the interests of the people,” protester Esmat Mansour told Reuters news agency.
As the protesters began to march to Abbas’ office compound, a group of the president’s supporters blocked the rally, prompting an exchange of stone-throwing between the two sides. Palestinian security forces in riot gear fired tear gas and stun grenades at the protesters, sending many running for cover.
PA security crackdown on a protest demanding accountability after the death of political activist and PLC candidate #NizarBanat in PA custody on THU. At least 20 protestors and three members of PA security wounded. Five journalists assaulted. Latest video from AlJazeera: pic.twitter.com/JWurEjR4uy
— Rania Zabaneh (@RZabaneh) June 26, 2021
Later, Abbas’ supporters gathered in a counter-rally, with dozens chanting: “People want Abbas as president.”
At least five journalists – four of them women – were wounded in the protests, including Middle East Eye’s correspondent Shatha Hammad, who was hit in the face with a tear gas canister.
Hammad said the PA forces had “intentionally targeted” journalists, and used plainclothes policemen to attack and arrest protesters.
PA thugs attacking journalists. pic.twitter.com/1cOuBKcQNo
— Tariq Dana (@TariqNDana) June 26, 2021
According to medical sources, at least 20 people were injured in the confrontations.
In a statement, Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said the PA was acting in “criminal conduct”.
“The brutal repression by the security services of the PA in the occupied West Bank against demonstrators is criminal conduct and a flagrant violation of all laws and humanitarian norms,” he said, adding that the PA is acting against “national and moral considerations”.
شاهد : قمع مسيرة رام الله من قبل عناصر أمنية بلباس مدني ورسمي pic.twitter.com/a74lrmndRI
— شبكة قدس الإخبارية (@qudsn) June 26, 2021
On Thursday, demonstrators had set fires, blocked the streets of the city centre and clashed with riot police in Ramallah.
Palestinians also chanted against the PA on Friday at Banat’s funeral in Hebron and masked gunmen fired shots into the air.
Hundreds also rallied against Abbas after Friday prayers at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.
‘Subcontractor to Israel’
The crackdown comes as the internationally-backed PA faces a growing backlash from Palestinians who view it as corrupt and increasingly autocratic, a manifestation of a three-decade peace process that is nowhere close to delivering Palestinian independence.
Palestinian protesters have accused the PA of being a subcontractor to the Israeli occupation.
We can’t talk about what is happening in the Palestinian streets without talking about the complex oppression. PA is just a sup-contractor of the Israeli security system, both of them is attacking journalists critic activists! #JusticeForNizar #NizarBanat #FreePalestine pic.twitter.com/wHYxdY1710
— Mona shtaya (@Monashtayya) June 26, 2021
The PA controls parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, while its rival Hamas group has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007, having defeated attempts by Fatah – the party that dominates the PA – to remove them from power after they were elected in 2006.
Critics of Abbas, who was elected to a four-year term in 2005, say he has little to show after more than a decade of close security coordination with Israel.
The European Union has provided hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the PA over the years, and the United States and other nations have trained and equipped its security forces. The PA is seen internationally as a key partner in efforts to revive the Middle East peace process, which ground to a halt more than a decade ago.
Human rights groups say Abbas regularly arrests critics. A Human Rights Watch official said Banat’s arrest was “no anomaly”.
In a series of posts and live videos on his Facebook page, Banat, 43, had talked about the PA’s close security coordination with Israel, seen by many Palestinians as betrayal, and its corruption.
He slammed Abbas in April for calling off what would have been the first Palestinian elections in 15 years. Banat was a legislative candidate on a slate formed of academics and PA opponents.
The PA said it formed a high-level committee to investigate Banat’s death. An initial forensic examination concluded the cause of the death was “unnatural”.