PALESTINE PROTESTS: Thousands rally for change in West Bank – 2000 in Bethlehem PHOTOS 25Feb11 February 26, 2011

Ma’an News Agency -  25 February 2011

Palestinians rallied Thursday in the center of Ramallah protesting against both the state of internal political disunity and the Oslo Accords with Israel, leading to brief skirmishes between the sides.

About 1,500 protesters took to the main streets of the city carrying flags and banners and calling for unity and liberation. Protesters represented every faction, among them Hamas, Fatah, and the leftist parties.

Khalida Jarrar, a Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine lawmaker, said it was time to “wipe this page from our history.”

Rally organizer Hassen Faraj said the “Palestinian youth want to convey a clear message on the necessity of ending division and to return to unity, enough with division.”

He added: “We must return to unity. We’re too complacent with the division. If we unite, we could confront the Israeli occupation and restore our rights and stand behind our leadership.”

Authorities in Gaza banned the rally, Faraj said. He considered the move disappointing.

Hamas and Fatah, which dominates the Palestinian Authority, are longstanding rivals, but tensions between them boiled over in 2007, when the Islamist group ousted its Fatah opponent from Gaza.

Successive reconciliation talks between the two sides have failed.

In Nablus, 5,000 people demonstrated against what was the first US veto at the UN since the Obama administration took office: the nixing of a resolution which criticized Jewish settlement activity.

Palestinians waved flags and banners, lashing out at Obama’s administration.

“The US veto puts Israel above international law,” some chanted during the demonstration in the northern West Bank town.

“We came here today to say no to the US veto, the veto of shame,” said Mahmoud Ishtayeh, a local official in the Fatah party of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

The resolution, drafted by the Palestinian leadership in an attempt to pressure Israel to halt settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, was supported by all 14 other members of the Security Council.

The United States denied its veto should be interpreted as support for settlement construction, but said it did not believe the United Nations was the best place to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Palestinian officials have said they will launch a new bid for UN condemnation of Israeli settlement building, bringing a resolution before the General Assembly.

In photos: 2,000 rally against US in Bethlehem  Maan Images/Luay Sababa

Ma’an News Agency -  25 February 2011

An estimated 2,000 Palestinians block traffic at an intersection in Bethlehem during a protest condemning the US veto of a draft UN resolution on settlement construction in the occupied territories, on Feb. 23, 2011. Palestinians had hoped the resolution would push Israel to halt settlements and pave the way to peace talks.

Thousands in Nablus rally against US veto

Ma’an News Agency -  25 February 2011

Thousands of Palestinians demonstrated Thursday in Nablus, in the second West Bank protest in as many days against a US veto of a UN resolution condemning Israeli settlements.

Protesters backed President Mahmoud Abbas’ decision to censure the US after it blocked a resolution at the Security Council despite the support of the other 14 members of the 15-member body.

Organized by the Teachers Syndicate, protesters in the city center held signs saying “No to the shameful US veto,” “No to the Iranian veto of Palestinian reconciliation,” “Yes to reconciliation, Yes to national unity.”

They urged the PA to reach out to Hamas to form a unity government and work toward statehood.

Some factions have accused Iran of exerting influence over Hamas leaders in Gaza to prevent a unity deal. In turn, Hamas officials accuse the PA of letting US influence stymie unity efforts.

Protesters organized a similar demonstration a day earlier in Bethlehem, where 2,000 demonstrators briefly closed a key Israeli checkpoint.

Both events come amid an unprecedented wave of uprisings in the Arab world, after pro-democracy movements brought down two autocratic regimes and sparked unrest in half a dozen other countries.

Activists in the West Bank and Gaza are threatening to take to the streets next month if the governments in the two Palestinian enclaves fail to negotiate an end to the state of political disunity that began in 2007.

Tawfiq At-Tirawi, a Fatah leader who organized the Nablus protest, said: “I came here today not to give a speech but to cheer: No, no to the US veto. No, no to the division. No, no to occupation. Yes to Palestinian national unity, no to [the Hamas] coup.”

But the speakers were not limited to Fatah. The Palestine People’s Party, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Fida party also sent delegates echoing the same message: Palestinians should demand political unity.

They all praised the PA’s “decision to hold firm to Palestinian rights,” as one delegate put it. The participating leftists factions also stressed the need for municipal elections.

Muhammad Dweikat, another organizer, told demonstrators that “the Palestinian cause faces difficult and dangerous times because of America’s bias toward Israel and its settlements alongside the changes rocking the Arab world.”

He urged the Palestinians to form a single government and homeland to end the occupation.

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