Palestinians in violent clashes with police over price hikes

Tue, Sep 11, 2012, 01:00

PALESTINIAN PROTESTS against the high cost of living in the West Bank have turned violent, with police and demonstrators clashing in the city of Hebron.

Police used tear gas to disperse a crowd yesterday after windows were smashed and about 100 protesters tried to storm a municipal building.

The day of protest throughout the West Bank came in response to recent price hikes and delays in paying salaries to tens of thousands of civil servants.

Public transport workers joined in the protest, demanding a cut in fuel costs and preventing many people from getting to work.

Taxi drivers blocked the street in front of prime minister Salam Fayyad’s office in Ramallah, while dozens of youths chanted “leave, leave”, echoing a slogan made popular in the Arab Spring.

The Palestinian Authority (PA), dominated by President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement, controls the West Bank, and has taken on extra loans in an effort to combat the slowdown in economic growth and rising prices.

Hanna Amireh, a senior Palestinian Liberation Organisation official in the West Bank, warned the PA could lose control of the situation if the protests were to continue.

Until now protesters had been demanding the resignation of Mr Fayyad – but the crowds yesterday also called on Mr Abbas to step down.

Leading Palestinian officials have also demanded changes to the 1994 Paris Protocol, which regulates economic relations between the West Bank and Israel, claiming it imposes significant restrictions on Palestinian economic development.

However, Israel’s deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon said it was not right to amend the accord as long as the diplomatic process remained deadlocked and the PA remained in debt to Israel over the transfer of electricity and gas.

Mr Abbas said as long as the protests were peaceful, the PA would allow them. “I am against armed uprisings,” he said. “I am against opening fire, because I know how the consequences of doing so affect our people. I am in favour of peaceful demonstrations, whether they are against the occupation or against the PA.”

Mr Fayyad said he was willing to step down if that was what the people wanted: “If there is a real public demand that I resign, and if it would solve the economic problems, then I would not hesitate to step down, nor would I delay it.”