Gaza: Protesters to sleep in Unknown Soldier Square

Gaza: Protesters to sleep in Unknown Soldier Square
Published today (updated) 14/03/2011 21:48
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GAZA CITY (Ma’an) — Gaza City’s Unknown Soldier Square is filled with Palestinian flags, mattresses, tents, stereos, speakers and banners as young Palestinians rally to end the division.

At least 3,000 protesters hit the streets today, and say they plan to sleep in the square ahead of the mass demonstration planned for March 15.

Demonstrators carried banners demanding national unity: “Sit-in, sit-in until the end of division,” “We won’t go, we won’t sleep until we end the division,” “We are united in our struggle: workers, students and farmers.”

But the most common slogan read simply, “The people want to end the division.”

“We went out in a spontaneous demonstration today from Al-Azhar University and Al-Quds Open University” Hani Abu Mustafa of the March 15 coalition told Ma’an. Word has spread and the people have joined the movement, he added.

He said they would stay in the square until their demands were met.

“We upheld the slogan of the youth revolutions, we won’t allow any flag into the square other than the Palestinian flag,” he said.

The same principle is governing the coalition’s demonstration in Ramallah, where protesters insist only the national flag will fly.

As more and more people arrived at the Gaza City sit-in, there was a party-like atmosphere in the square, with youngsters waving flags, singing national songs and chanting slogans.

Huge loudspeakers blasted tunes from a popular Lebanese singer as young people stood around chatting or put up tents, some lounging on mattresses.

There were few signs of the security forces, although a handful of police could be seen directing traffic around the square, an AFP correspondent said.

Some activists said the decision to start the mass protests a day early was taken for fear the Hamas-run security forces would close off the square or block roads in a bid to prevent the planned rallies.

But Samah al-Rawah, another of the March 15 organizers, said the decision to start early came after the Hamas Interior Ministry refused to give them a permit to protest on March 15, saying another group had already applied to hold a protest that day.

Organizers believe the permit was handed to a Hamas organization which is trying to co-opt the March 15 movement, which goes by the name The National Campaign for an End to Division.

“So we have started now because we don’t want any other Palestinian faction to steal this event. We will sleep here because we don’t want anyone else to take over the square,” Rawah said.

Earlier on Monday, Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh had ordered the Interior Ministry to let the rallies go ahead without interruption, his office said in a statement.

The premier, it said, “supports all the efforts by the young people and the factions which aims to end the division and protecting the… national unity of our people.”

Haniyeh ordered the ministry to ensure the security forces “created an atmosphere which would let these public events succeed.”

Later, a statement from the Hamas security forces said they would “work hard to protect these noble goals and will continue to keep the compass national and the public away from hateful partisanship that some people are trying to make up to poison the atmosphere.”

Since the outbreak of massive protests in Egypt, Hamas security forces have clamped down on numerous demonstrations. Last week, they detained 11 “unity” protesters and interrogated those believed to be behind the Facebook campaign.

( / 14.03.2011)

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