RAMALLAH, West Bank – Palestinian police violently cracked down on protests organized by their rivals in Hamas throughout the West Bank on Friday as rallies against Israeli air strikes in Gaza turned into demonstrations against the Palestinian Authority.
Police of Mahmoud Abbas' Palestinian Authority pounced on demonstrators protesting seven days of heavy Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip targeting the militant Hamas movement.
Security forces particularly focused on anyone carrying Hamas' green flags, a telling indication of Abbas' determination to thwart any challenges to its own rule in the West Bank from Hamas.
Feelings are running high among Palestinians and across the Middle East against the strikes which have killed at least 400 Palestinians, including around 100 civilians, according to a U.N. estimate.
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Abbas, together with his allies in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, have blamed Hamas for bringing the attacks on themselves by repeatedly firing rockets into Israel. These criticisms, though, have angered many in the face of Israel's assaults.
"Abu Mazen is on the side of the Jews!" yelled 66-year-old Umm Maher at a small demonstration in east Jerusalem, referring to Abbas by his nickname.
Israeli police quickly dispersed the few dozen protesters in that demonstration, but elsewhere, it was the security forces of the Palestinian Authority stopping the rallies against Israel's actions.
In the southern West Bank city of Hebron, demonstrators who for decades had being throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers, now pelted Palestinian police after they tried to disburse 400 Hamas loyalists brandishing the movement's green flag.
"We will prohibit any signs and slogans that are hostile to the Palestinian Authority, and prohibit incitement," said Riyad Malki, Information Minister. "Security forces have been instructed to deal with these demonstrations."
Police detained five Hamas supporters at a 3,000-strong demonstration in the central West Bank town of Ramallah and ripped up placards with pro-Hamas slogans.
"The more they try suppress us, the more popular we will become," vowed Muna Mansour, a prominent Hamas member.
In several cases, the Palestinian police stopped protesters from approaching some of the Israeli checkpoints scattered around the West Bank, which youths target with rocks and firebombs.
Demonstrators were shocked to suddenly find themselves clashing with their own police forces.
"When I saw the police coming with their batons, I thought of the Jews. They also don't deal with people except with clubs and live bullets," said Najiyeh Awdeh, a 50-year-old protester, referring to Israeli forces.