Angry protests grip West Bank

2012-09-10 21:25
Palestinian police use shields to protect themselves from stones thrown by Palestinian demonstrators during a protest near the municipality building in the West Bank city of Hebron. (AP)

Palestinian police use shields to protect themselves from stones thrown by Palestinian demonstrators during a protest near the municipality building in the West Bank city of Hebron. (AP)

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Hebron - About 2 000 Palestinians angry at the rising cost of living flooded the streets of Hebron on Monday, as public transport in the West Bank ground to a halt in a general strike.

Clouds of black smoke poured into the air across the Israeli-occupied territory as furious protesters set light to tyres, kicking off a second week of protests against the spiralling cost of living, high petrol prices and unemployment.

In the southern city of Hebron, demonstrators took to the streets in the early morning, blocking main roads with boulders and burning tyres, which later degenerated into mass stone throwing at cars and the municipal building, an AFP correspondent reported.

They also hurled stones at Palestinian police and Israeli troops in the area.

Public transport was at a complete halt throughout the West Bank as union bosses called a mass strike over the rising cost of petrol which has risen from six to eight shekels per litre in the past two months (from $1.50 to $2.00).

Empty streets

With no buses, minibuses or taxis in operation, the streets were empty, and private cars were also barred from entering towns and cities by makeshift roadblocks.

At the Qalandia crossing between Ramallah and Jerusalem, small groups of bus and taxi drivers were on the lookout for any strike breakers.

"People need to appreciate what we are doing and they should support us because you shouldn't be paying seven shekels to get here from Ramallah," one driver said, without giving his name, saying the current price of 3.5 shekels was set to double.

So far, the police have looked on passively as thousands of demonstrators have protested over the past week, with spokesperson Adnan Damiri saying they were not planning to intervene unless things got out of hand.

"We completely understand these protests, the president and the leadership's instructions were clear and affirmed the peaceful nature of these protests," he said.

"We are not interested in clashing with the people because we don't want to complicate things, but at the same time we are seeking to maintain the peace."

Criticism

However the protests triggered sharp criticism of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority from the rival Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip, with spokesperson Fawzi Barhum saying they were a "natural reaction" to its "political and economic failure".

"Abu Mazen [Abbas] has to respond quickly to the fair demands of the protesters and make them a priority because responding to their daily needs is an act of nationalism," he said.

Much of the public anger over the cost of living has been directed at Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and his government, with many protesters calling for his resignation.

On Sunday, Fayyad and a group of ministers met with business and union leaders, the private sector and civil society groups to find ways of reducing prices and regulating salaries.

The recommendations were to be put to the cabinet on Tuesday.

The Palestinian Authority has also said it is seeking talks with Israel on amending the Paris Protocol, a key accord which has a direct impact on local taxes and fuel prices.

But an Israeli official on Monday said the Palestinians were "not serious" about changing the accord and only looking to shift the blame for their economic problems onto Israel.

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