In rare de­fi­ance, Gazans protest elec­tric­ity cuts

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - WORLD - By Fares Akram Fares Akram is an As­so­ci­ated Press writer.

GAZA CITY — Thou­sands of peo­ple took to the streets Thurs­day to protest chronic power cuts dur­ing the cold win­ter sea­son in the Ha­mas­ruled Gaza Strip, in one of the largest unau­tho­rized protests in the ter­ri­tory since the Is­lamic mil­i­tant group took power a decade ago.

Ha­mas has shown lit­tle tol­er­ance for dis­sent, and it moved quickly to con­tain Thurs­day’s demon­stra­tion. Po­lice fired in the air to dis­perse a crowd of stone-throw­ing pro­test­ers and blocked jour­nal­ists from the area.

A day ear­lier, Ha­mas-run au­thor­i­ties ar­rested lo­cal co­me­dian Adel al-Mash­wakhi, who made a vi­ral video that re­ceived more than 250,000 views. In the one-minute video, ti­tled “Ha­mas, it’s enough,” he lists the ba­sics miss­ing in Gaza, in­clud­ing jobs and the abil­ity to travel. Take “ev­ery­thing but elec­tric­ity, Ha­mas,” he says, fac­ing the cam­era.

The demon­stra­tion be­gan in the Je­baliya refugee camp, and as it grew in size, the crowd marched to­ward the nearby of­fices of an elec­tric­ity dis­tri­bu­tion com­pany, chant­ing: “Raise your voice, elec­tric­ity cuts mean death.”

Ha­mas po­lice made way for the crowd, but took up po­si­tions out­side the elec­tric­ity com­pany’s build­ing. When a group of youths threw stones at them, they fired into the air to dis­perse the crowd. Later, the pro­test­ers ar­rived at the build­ing and gath­ered peace­fully.

Ha­mas forces blocked jour­nal­ists from film­ing the gath­er­ing, and an As­so­ci­ated Press jour­nal­ist was briefly de­tained at gun­point un­til he handed over his mo­bile phones to plain­clothes se­cu­rity men.

Life has be­come in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult for Gaza’s 2 mil­lion res­i­dents, who are squeezed into the tiny coastal ter­ri­tory. Ha­mas’ vi­o­lent takeover a decade ago trig­gered a bor­der block­ade by Is­rael and Egypt that, among other things, sharply ag­gra­vated power short­ages.

Ha­mas, an Is­lamic mil­i­tant group sworn to Is­rael’s de­struc­tion, has ruled the ter­ri­tory since 2007, rou­tinely clamp­ing down on crit­ics.

De­spite the hard­ships, an­tiHa­mas ral­lies have been spo­radic, in part be­cause of fear and be­cause even dis­grun­tled Gazans be­lieve there’s no re­al­is­tic path to top­pling the mil­i­tants.

Gaza’s Pales­tinian Cen­ter for Hu­man Rights con­demned the co­me­dian’s ar­rest, and said it was the third time since last year that he was taken into cus­tody for crit­i­ciz­ing Ha­mas

Khalil Hamra / As­so­ci­ated Press

Pales­tini­ans protest power cuts in a Gaza Strip refugee camp in one of the largest demon­stra­tions since Ha­mas took con­trol.

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