Thousands of Palestinians have gathered in the Occupied Palestinian Territories in response to calls by various youth campaigns for an end to the division between the two main factions, Hamas and Fatah. The rallies in the centre of Gaza City and in Manara Square in Ramallah were made up mainly of young Palestinians fed up of the in-fighting that has plagued Palestinian society in recent years.
In Gaza, Hamas leaders and officials joined the protesters calling for the reconciliation of all Palestinian factions and an end to the siege of the territory. Political leaders also joined the demonstrators in Ramallah. Palestinian flags and various banners were raised calling for unified Palestinian representation. Some witnesses tweeted that there were minor skirmishes with pro-Fatah and pro-Hamas supporters trying to hijack the protest, but the overwhelming majority of the demonstrators took a non-partisan approach.
An official from Hamas addressed protesters in Gaza City and offered the movement's support for the demonstration, reiterating that it is keen "to launch a comprehensive dialogue to bring about an end to the division". He said that the groups should be working together on reorganising as a political entity and coordinate around national issues on efforts to end the occupation.
In a speech ahead of the protest, the Palestinian Prime Minister in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, called on President Mahmoud Abbas and the Fatah leadership to meet with their Hamas counterparts as a matter of urgency to initiate "a comprehensive national dialogue". Mr Haniyeh stressed that his government will remain committed to the fundamentals of the Palestinian people; he added that he was following the mass movements in the West Bank and Gaza "with great interest", as he saw that they are based on national consensus pushed forward by Palestinian youth. He expressed his view that Palestine was in its current situation due to several opposing forces, including external intervention; the primary focus of such forces is, he claimed, on the maintenance of the status quo and the weakening of the Palestinian struggle to end the occupation. He ended by stating that any future unified Palestinian government must be based wholly on what the people decide upon.
In the occupied West Bank, meanwhile, marches were attended by citizens and supporters of both of the main factions who were joined by political officials, including deputies from the Legislative Council, and the governors of West Bank cities. The demonstrators raised placards calling for elections, demanding an end to the division and the return to national cohesion.
The dire internal strife within Palestinian society, including politically-inspired arrests and prosecutions by West Bank security forces reflected negatively on the turnout. This was underscored in Ramallah, where Palestinian Authority security forces prevented many demonstrators from reaching their destination of Dawar al-Manara in the city centre.
MEMO Photographer: Mohammed Asad