RAMALLAH, West Bank — During a rally in the West Bank on Saturday, enraged protestors fought with Palestinian security forces for the third day in a row over the murder of an outspoken opponent of the Palestinian Authorities who died in jail.
Hundreds gathered in Ramallah, the Palestinian Authority’s headquarters, to scream anti-Mahmoud Abbas chants two days after Abbas’ troops assaulted activist Nizar Banat immediately after his detention.
Protesters carried Palestinian flags and Banat banners and demanded that Abbas resign. They yelled, “The people want to destroy the dictatorship!” and “Step down, Abbas!”
As the demonstrators approached Abbas’ office compound, a number of the president’s supporters attempted to obstruct the demonstration, resulting in a stone-throwing battle between the two sides. Many demonstrators fled for shelter as Palestinian security officers in riot gear shot tear gas and stun grenades at them.
Later, Abbas supporters gathered for a counter-protest, with many screaming, “People want Abbas as President.”
Demonstrators in Ramallah lit fires, blocked roadways in the city center, and fought with riot police on Thursday. Masked gunmen fired bullets into the air as Palestinians yelled anti-PA slogans at Banat’s burial in Hebron. Hundreds of people demonstrated against Abbas following Friday prayers at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque.
The crackdown comes as the PA, which is backed by the international community, confronts mounting criticism from Palestinians who see it as corrupt and more dictatorial, a result of a three-decade peace process that has yet to deliver Palestinian independence.
Parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank are under PA authority, while the Gaza Strip has been under the control of its adversary, the terrorist Hamas organization, since 2007. After more than a decade of close security collaboration with Israel, Abbas, who was elected to a four-year term in 2005, has little to show for it.
Over the years, the EU has given the Palestinian Authority hundreds of millions of dollars in aid, while the US and other countries have trained and equipped its security forces. Internationally, the Palestinian Authority is viewed as a vital participant in efforts to restart the Middle East peace process, which stalled more than a decade ago.
Banat has discussed the PA’s tight security collaboration with Israel, which many Palestinians regard as treachery, and its corruption in a series of articles and live broadcasts on his Facebook page. In April, he criticized Abbas for canceling Palestinian elections that would have been held for the first time in 15 years. Banat was a member of a slate that included academics and PA foes.
According to the PA, a high-level committee has been created to investigate Banat’s death. He was allegedly beaten in jail, according to his relatives. The cause of death was determined to be “unnatural” after an initial forensic examination.