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    Hamas crackdown quells Gaza demos, but protest calls persist

    GAZA CITY (AFP) – Gaza has seen regular protests along the Israeli border for the past year, but new demonstrations in recent days have been much less to the liking of the strip’s rulers Hamas.

    Over the course of several days beginning last week, hundreds of Palestinians gathered in multiple locations in protests against rising prices but also in opposition to the militant group, which has controlled Gaza since 2007.

    Hamas security forces cracked down harshly, beating protesters and arresting hundreds, rights groups said.

    Demonstrations have since petered out, though organisers have called for fresh rallies in the coming days.

    United Nations envoy Nickolay Mladenov on Sunday condemned a “campaign of arrests and violence” by Hamas security forces.

    “The long-suffering people of Gaza were protesting the dire economic situation and demanded an improvement in the quality of life in the Gaza Strip,” said Mladenov, envoy to Israel and the Palestinian territories.

    The protests are a rare internal challenge to Hamas, which has fought three wars with Israel since 2008.

    Small numbers gathered in various spots from Thursday to Sunday, calling for Hamas authorities to reduce taxes and improve the economic situation.

    Youth unemployment in Gaza is 70 per cent, according to the World Bank, which says the main cause is the Israeli blockade of the strip along with Egypt’s border having been largely closed in recent years.

    Israel says the blockade is necessary to restrict Hamas, but rights groups argue the measures amount to collective punishment of the roughly two million residents.

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