Ramallah protesters resume hunger strike 21Mar11 March 22, 2011

Ma’an News Agency -  21 March 2011

Protesters resumed a hunger strike Sunday morning in Ramallah’s Manara square, as youth rallies in the West Bank and Gaza continue to demand national unity.

On Tuesday, hundreds of thousands of young Palestinians took to the streets in Gaza City, and thousands rallied in cities across the West Bank, demanding elections for the Palestinian National Council to end the division between the Hamas-governed Gaza Strip and the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority.

Despite a brutal crackdown by security forces in Gaza, protesters have continued to rally, and say they will protest until the division ends.

In Ramallah, protesters have slept in Manara since Sunday, cleaning the square at dawn every morning.

By day, hundreds of Palestinians join the protest, chanting “The people want to end the division.” One Ramallah resident told Ma’an he came with his friends every night because “it gives us hope.”

A core group of protesters went on hunger strike on March 13, but suspended the strike Thursday after President Mahmoud Abbas announced he would hold unity talks in Gaza.

However, demonstrators resumed the hunger strike Sunday saying factions have failed to meet their demands.

The group are demanding that Fatah and Hamas release all political prisoners in the West Bank and Gaza, stop inciting against each other in the media and follow-up on the initiative to hold unity talks.

One hunger-striker told Ma’an, “We don’t want promises, we want action.”

Three protesters went on hunger strike on Sunday, and organizers said three more would join the strike every day until the demands were met.

Police finally allowed protesters to erect a tent in Manara square Sunday evening as it started to rain. The tent had been confiscated by police earlier in the week, who until now refused demonstrators permission to put it up. Permission was only granted to erect the ceiling of the tent however.

The rallies were organized by the March 15 movement — a coalition of youth groups across the Palestinian territories. The movement has resisted attempts by political factions to hijack the rallies, insisting that only national flags fly at the protests.

In Ramallah, groups of Fatah supporters disrupted otherwise peaceful protests on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, bringing loudspeakers to drown out protesters’ chants.

March 15 movement youth and police managed to contain minor clashes. Protesters noted that it was a small group of Fatah-affiliated agitators trying to disturb the rally, while many Fatah supporters were part of the movement.

However, protesters decided to arrange art events and concerts to avoid being dragged into violence.

On Friday night, Palestinian singer Reem Talhami performed in Manara square, and Rim Banna is scheduled to sing on Sunday.

The movement has organized in university campuses and on social media sites.

One organizer tweeted on Sunday, “Al-Manara sq. is our home now, we can’t leave it.”


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