Palestinians rally in Gaza, West Bank for unity

March 16, 2011 - 0:0

GAZA – Tens of thousands of people have held parallel rallies in Gaza City and the West Bank city of Ramallah to call for Palestinian unity.

Palestinian activists called for a national dialogue between Hamas, which governs Gaza, and Fatah, which rules the West Bank.
“There are tens of thousands of people already there, and there may be more on the way,” Ihab al-Ghussein, organizer, said.
Al Jazeera’s Nicole Johnston, reporting from Gaza City, said that organizers were very happy at the turnout.
The biggest gathering was in Gaza City, where officials from the interior ministry said vast crowds had packed into the city's Square of the Unknown Soldier, AFP reported.
“There are tens of thousands of people already there, and there may be more on the way,” interior ministry spokesman Ihab al-Ghussein told AFP.
In Ramallah, which lies some 90 km (55 miles) further north, around 3,000 people had gathered in Manara Square, with hundreds more pouring in all the time, an AFP correspondent said.
The rallies, called by the March 15 protest movement and planned through Facebook by young activists demanding an end to the division between the rival Fatah and Hamas factions, are taking place simultaneously in the two cities.
In Gaza, demonstrators got a head start, beginning their rallies on Monday out of concern they might be prevented by Hamas security forces from gathering on the day.
As darkness fell, many went home, but around 60 people slept the night there in small tents under banners reading “Stop the division” and “Yes to Palestinian national unity.”
Among them were a number of people who on Monday began a hunger strike to pressure the two factions to unite, activists said.
Organizer Hossam Khadra told AFP they had finally received a permit to demonstrate after previously being refused.
“Yesterday the interior ministry told us we have permission to demonstrate until 5:00 pm (1500 GMT),” he said.
In the West Bank city of Ramallah, around 12 protesters slept the night in Manara Square, all of whom have been observing a hunger strike since Sunday.
“We are hunger striking to prove that we exist in the real world and not just online, and to show that we are ready to die to end the division,” organizer Fadi Quraan told AFP.
“We slept here to prove that we are the ones running this campaign,” he said, while expressing concerns about other political groups trying to co-opt Tuesday's rallies.
The March 15 demonstrations, organized by youth activists who say they have no political affiliation, are expected to receive widespread support across the territories, with similar protests planned outside Palestinian delegations overseas.
The movement was inspired by the recent wave of uprisings in the Arab world which brought down the regimes of Egypt and Tunisia and sparked the revolt in Libya.
Photo: Palestinians wave flags and chant slogans during a rally calling for a reconciliation between the rival Palestinian leading factions Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank, in Gaza City, Tuesday, March 15, 2011. (AP photo)