Standoff at UNRWA building in Gaza

March 17, 2011

GAZA CITY (Ma’an) — Security forces dispersed a demonstration organized by Palestinian youth who are calling for ending division, in front of the UNRWA building in Gaza on Thursday.

Sixteen young activists were fleeing Hamas when they took shelter inside the building.

Nuha Wajeeh, one of the protestors, told Ma’an that “we will be continue our sit-in under the protection of UNRWA guards until we achieve all our demands, the first of which is to end division.”

She asked “why the security departments are oppressing the peaceful rallies that support the objective of ending division?” She demanded the release of all the young men who were arrested.

A group of independent Palestinian political figures announced Thursday that preparations were going forward to receive President Mahmoud Abbas in Gaza for what could be the turning point in Palestinian unity efforts.

Coalition leader Yasser Al-Wadieh said urgent consultations had been made to prepare the ground for Abbas’ arrival, though officials in Ramallah have yet to confirm a date for the trip.

Following mass protests in Ramallah and Gaza City where youth groups joined forces demanding an end to division, Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh told a live broadcast that he was inviting Abbas to “Gaza, or any other place” for a discussion.

At a news conference after a PLO Executive Committee Meeting in Ramallah, Abbas said he would go to Gaza, but not for unity discussions, and rather to make a final unity deal.

Al-Wadieh said his coalition of independent figures “welcome and praise the courageous initiative of the President to visit the Gaza Strip and put an end to the split,” adding that the visit would be a loaded one, with hopes pinned to end the division.

Thanks were due to Haniyeh, Al-Wadieh said, for his initiative to invite Abbas.

“The opportunity is ripe for reconciliation if we can keep personal interests off the table,” the official said.

In 2006, Hamas was elected with a majority and took control of the Palestinian Legislative Council and the Palestinian Authority. When nations around the world – starting with Canada – announced they would boycott Hamas, a unity government including leading Fatah and independent Palestinian figures was formed.

Western donor countries halted all aid to the Palestinian Authority, until civil strife tore the government apart and Fatah regained control, but only in the West Bank.

Hamas took power in Gaza, leaving the two areas of Palestine under separate governments since the summer of 2007.

Maan News Agency: Standoff at UNRWA building in Gaza.

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