Palestinians Rally for Political Unity

Tens of thousands of Palestinians have rallied in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to call for reconciliation between rival Palestinian governments based in the two territories.

Tuesday’s rallies in Gaza City and several parts of the West Bank were organized through Facebook by Internet activists calling themselves the “March 15 Youth.”

The demonstrators carried banners urging Hamas militants who rule Gaza and the Fatah-led government in the West Bank to end the feud that has divided them since 2007, when Hamas drove Fatah forces out of Gaza. The rallies were the latest to be inspired by popular uprisings against authoritarian rulers in several Arab nations.

Hamas and Fatah authorities approved the demonstrations but did not explicitly participate in them. Organizers insisted on keeping the rallies non-partisan.

Tens of thousands of people joined the demonstration in Gaza City, while at least 8,000 people turned out in Ramallah and other West Bank cities.

Some demonstrators in Gaza City engaged in rock-throwing confrontations with Hamas supporters whom they accused of co-opting the reconciliation movement. As the Gaza rally ended, witnesses say Hamas security forces started beating protesters with clubs to disperse them.

Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh appealed to Fatah leaders Tuesday to join “immediate” unity talks in Gaza. But efforts by Arab mediators to reconcile Hamas and Fatah have failed repeatedly in recent years, with both sides accusing each other of being illegitimate rulers.

Fatah leader and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is calling for presidential and parliamentary elections to be held by September in the West Bank and Gaza, to allow the Palestinian electorate to decide who should be in charge. Hamas has said it will not permit Fatah to hold any elections in Gaza.

The two movements also have sharp divisions over how to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Mr. Abbas favors a peace settlement with Israel, but he walked out of negotiations last year to protest Israeli settlement construction on occupied land the Palestinians want for a state. Hamas opposes peace talks and has called for Israel’s destruction. voa

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