Protesters in Ramallah chant “the people want the fall of the regime” and urge Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to “leave”.
Hundreds of Palestinians gathered in the city of Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank, to demonstrate against President Mahmoud Abbas, in the hope of giving new impetus to a protest movement sparked by the death of a virulent criticism of the custody of the security forces.
Palestinian security forces and groups of men in civilian clothes violently dispersed demonstration a week ago, drawing expressions of concern from the United States and the United Nations chief of human rights. There were no immediate reports of violence during Saturday’s protest.
The Palestinian Authority (PA) was established as part of the peace process in the 1990s and governs parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
He became increasingly domineering and unpopular, and Abbas overturned the first election in 15 years in April when it looked like his fractured Fatah party would lose.
As violence escalated in May between Hamas, the Palestinian group that rules the besieged Gaza Strip, and Israel, Abbas was largely sidelined amid a surge of support for Hamas.
Saturday’s protest began with a few hundred demonstrators gathering in al-Manara Square in central Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian Authority.
The mother of Nizar Banat, the activist whose death last month sparked the protests, and other family members were greeted with applause and brief speeches.
The crowd then looped through the city center, gathering forces as they marched until thousands could be heard chanting “The people want the regime down” and “Abbas, go”, slogans used during the so-called Arab Spring protests that swept across the Middle East in 2011.
Reporting from Ramallah, Al Jazeera’s Nida Ibrahim said that although police forces were generally stationed during protests in the occupied West Bank, there was no visible force during Saturday’s protest.
“We do however hear that there are riot police in the streets around the square and in the streets leading to the presidential headquarters. If the protesters try to make their way to the presidential seat, they could be encountered by force.
“We have witnessed a violent crackdown on demonstrations last week against the death of PA critic Nizar Banat,” Ibrahim said, adding that the international community condemned the crackdown on protesters.
The Fatah party, led by Abbas and dominating the Palestinian Authority, meanwhile held a rally in Hebron, in the southern West Bank, during which supporters waved the party’s iconic yellow flags. Official Palestinian Authority television covered the Hebron rally and ignored the protest in Ramallah.
Fatah show of force in Hebron. Counter-demonstration against the demonstration of Nizar Banat in Ramallah. pic.twitter.com/metJXyYGZs
– Neri Zilber (@NeriZilber) July 3, 2021
State Department spokesman Ned Price said earlier this week that the United States was “deeply troubled by reports that non-uniformed members of the Palestinian Authority security forces harassed and used force against protesters and journalists ”during protests last weekend.
Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said Thursday that Palestinian security forces beat protesters with batons and attacked them with tear gas and stun grenades. She said they appeared to have chosen protesters, journalists and passers-by, many of whom said they had been sexually harassed.
She called on the Palestinian Authority “to guarantee freedom of opinion, expression and peaceful assembly”.