Palestinian activists hold rare strike in besieged Gaza, demanding better living conditions
Under the slogan "We Want to Live", a crowd of protesters took to the streets in Gaza on Wednesday in a rare act of public criticism against Hamas - which rules the strip - urging action against endemic poor living conditions in the besieged Palestinian enclave.
The slogan appeared on social media last week and accompanies demands for more jobs and greater freedoms
The movement denies there is a politically-motivated agenda behind the protests. "No party is behind the 'We Want to Live' movement,” said one member of the Facebook group used by protesters.
Authorities have harshly cracked down on dissent following protests in Gaza - a response described as excessive by rights groups.
Videos circulated on social media on Thursday showed police firing warning shots in the air and beating protesters.
Amnesty International, who said one of its workers was beaten by police, called on Hamas to "end brutal crackdown against protesters and rights defenders".
The treatment of protesters at the hand of Hamas also drew condemnation from the UN. "I strongly condemn the campaign of arrests and violence used by Hamas security forces against protesters, including women and children, in Gaza over the past three days," the UN Coordinator, Nickolay Mladenov said.
Hamas claims it is restoring order in Gaza and accuses its political rival, Fatah, of stirring the protests and attempting to undermine its rule over contested land strip.
"Police and security apparatuses intervened against the protests after they had turned into vandalism and chaos," said Iyad al-Bazam, a spokesman for Hamas, as quoted in The New Arab's Arabic-language service.
Gaza is under a crippling blockade by Israel and Egypt, which has severly impacted on economic and living conditions in the Palestinian territory.
Israel has killed at least 253 Palestinian protesters on the Gaza border since demonstrations against the blockade began last year.