Palestinian Authority bans protests against Gaza sanctions

Palestinian government bans public protests after hundreds take to the streets in Ramallah calling for an end to punitive measures against Gaza.

RAMALLAH - The Palestinian government has temporarily banned public protests, it announced Wednesday, ahead of a planned demonstration in the occupied West Bank opposing punitive measures against Hamas-run Gaza.

Late Sunday hundreds took to the streets of Ramallah, the West Bank city that houses the Palestinian government, calling for president Mahmud Abbas to end measures against Gaza that critics say harm the two million residents.

Organisers estimated 2,000 people attended, a rare show of opposition to the government in the city.

A statement on official news agency Wafa said Wednesday no permits for protests would be given out during the coming days -- citing the Eid Muslim festival which is expected to begin Friday.

"In order to facilitate citizens' normal life in this period, it is prohibited to grant permits to organise marches or to establish gatherings that would disrupt the movement of citizens and disturb them," it said.

Despite the ban, organisers vowed to go ahead with fresh anti-government protests on Wednesday night.

"The [Israeli] occupation is the main culprit responsible for the blockade on Gaza, but President Abbas is making things worse by also imposing collective punishment on families there," campaign activist Fadi Quran said, vowing to take to the streets.

Gaza, which is only reachable from the West Bank via Israeli territory, is run by Islamists Hamas, who seized it from the Abbas-led Palestinian Authority in a 2007 near civil war.

The PA has introduced a series of measures against Gaza in the past year, including halting salaries to tens of thousands of its civil servants in the strip for months and saying it plans to force PA officials in Gaza into early retirement.

The embattled Strip also plunged into an electricity crisis when the PA stopped payments to Israel for electricity, in addition to refusing to pay tax on diesel for Gaza's power plants. 

The PA has also been accused of refusing to guarantee medical treatment for Gazans trying to reach hospitals in Israel or the West Bank.

Critics say such moves further exacerbate the split between the two parts of the Palestinian territories.

Since 2007, Israel has maintained a crippling blockade on the strip it says is necessary to isolate Hamas, but which detractors say amounts to collective punishment.

The United Nations has said the strip will be unlivable by 2020.

Hamas and Fatah signed a reconciliation agreement last October, but it has since collapsed.