GAZA, (Reuters) – At least 500 protesters in the Gaza Strip have called for the overthrow of the ruling Islamist Hamas group in a rare demonstration triggered by the death of a three-year-old boy in a fire during a power outage.
Protesters in the Bureij refugee camp, where the boy’s family live, called for Hamas to be toppled and chanted “The people want to down the regime” late on Tuesday night, echoing slogans adopted in Arab revolutions in neighbouring countries. The police swiftly dispersed the crowd.
Demonstrators took to the streets as the boy’s body was being moved to a hospital, saying they were protesting against the incompetent way Hamas ruled Gaza. Anger spilled over after the boy died and his infant sister suffered critical burns when a candle lit amid a power outage burnt their house down.
Anti-Hamas protests in Gaza, where power failures have left households with just six hours of electricity a day since February, are extremely rare. Three children were killed earlier in the year by similar fires during an outage.
Hamas blames the electricity shortages on Egypt which it says is restricting the flow of fuel, and on Israel, which imposed a blockade on the coastal enclave in 2007 when Hamas seized control from the Western-backed Palestinian Fatah party.
The dead boy’s father called for more protests, saying he hoped a healing of internal Palestinian political rifts could ease the Strip’s problems.
“I call on people to take to the streets and not to fear being clubbed by policemen,” Abdel-Fattah Al-Baghdadi, 23, told Reuters.
“I hold both the governments in Gaza and in the West Bank responsible for what happened to us,” he said.
Earning 1,250 shekels ($318) a month from working as a civil guard at the Religious Affairs Ministry, he said he had been using candles to light his house during blackouts because he could not afford to buy a generator or fuel.
“Besides my wife and two children, I had to spend money to help my bigger family,” he said.
Taher Al-Nono, a spokesman for the Hamas government in Gaza, said the death of Baghdadi’s son was a message to Egypt that it had to speed up its promised efforts to help solve the power crisis in Gaza.
“The international community’s silence is an accomplice in the crime of blockading Gaza,” Nono said in a statement.
Hamas is sensitive to criticism and has looked on with concern as protests in the Israeli-controlled West Bank against high prices have spread in the past few weeks, fearing they may spill over into its own territory.
Hamas has banned protests, including any demonstrations calling for an end to divisions between it and Fatah.
On Tuesday, police in Gaza dispersed what they said was an unlicenced rally organised by dozens of women calling for unity between Gaza and the West Bank.