Hamas cracks down on "unlicensed" rallies in Gaza
GAZA, Aug 13 (Reuters) Hamas Islamists in control of the Gaza Strip enforced today a new ban on unlicensed street rallies, firing in the air to disperse activists of the rival Fatah movement and confiscating cameras recording the scene.
Hamas's Executive Force said organisers had failed to apply for a permit to hold a rally, in accordance with new regulations issued late yesterday.
Hamas took over the Gaza Strip in June after a brief civil war with Fatah, the long-dominant faction of President Mahmoud Abbas. A Fatah official called the ban an ''illegal decision by an illegal and illegitimate force''.
Members of the Executive Force fired in the air while others confiscated yellow Fatah flags at Gaza's main square, where activists had gathered for the rally.
The Hamas security men, shouting ''filming is forbidden'', confiscated news cameras and cellular phones equipped with cameras.
They also entered the office of the Arab satellite channel Al-Arabiya and seized a video camera and a tape after journalists working for the station refused to hand over a recording of the events at the square.
The Palestinian journalists' union said the Executive Force action was an ''attack against freedom of expression''.
In a statement, the union called on local journalists in Gaza not to have any professional contact with the force for three days ''because it attacked our colleagues''.
Ehab al-Ghsain, spokesman of the Hamas-run Interior Ministry in Gaza that is in charge of the Executive Force, said rally organisers must seek a permit 48 hours before a gathering ''so we can prepare protection for participants''.
''There is no decision to ban rallies by Fatah or others. Today's rally was stopped because organisers refused to seek permission,'' Ghsain said.
Jamil Mezher, a leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine that was to have participated with Fatah in the rally, urged Hamas to reconsider regulations he said would ''hurt Palestinian democracy''.
''What happened today was an ... attempt to suppress and terrorise people who have the right to hold peaceful demonstrations,'' Mezher said.
REUTERS SKB ND1802