GAZA CITY – Police and security forces of Hamas, the Palestinian group that governs the Gaza Strip, have curbed rallies in support of Mahmoud Abbas as the Palestinian president is set to meet US President Barack Obama in Washington.
Demonstrations took place in Gaza and the West Bank on Monday against what organisers described as American and Israeli pressure on Abbas to extend peace talks with Israel.
US-brokered peace negotiations between the Palestinian and Israeli leaderships began in July, and are nearing the end of their nine-month deadline with little progress so far. Several Palestinian officials have said they refuse to extend the negotiations beyond April.
The rallies were organised "to support the Palestinian leadership in its stance that abides by our national principles," Iyad Safi, an activist with the Popular Campaign to Maintain Principles, which organised the rally in Gaza, told Al Jazeera.
As dozens of activists gathered outside the Gaza offices of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Hamas police officers forced participants to take down posters of Abbas and flags of his Fatah movement, Hamas' main political rivals.
The police forces later arrested several of the participants and dispersed others with batons. Safi said nine protest organisers and participants were arrested.
We are here to show our support to Abu Mazen [Abbas]. We are behind him as he wages a political fight against US and Israeli dictates.
Ihab Al-Ghussein, spokesman for the Hamas-led government, told Al Jazeera that the organisers did not request permission from the security services in Gaza to hold their rally, and therefore the police stopped them.
Islam Shahwan, a spokesman for the interior ministry in Gaza, told Al Jazeera that the rally was stopped "in order to maintain the general security".
Hamas and Fatah have been divided since factional fighting broke out after Hamas' victory in Palestinian legislative council elections in 2006. Since then, Hamas has been in control of the besieged Gaza Strip, while the Abbas-led Palestinian Authority (PA) has ruled over the occupied West Bank.
PA institutions closed
In the West Bank, demonstrations took place in the cities of Ramallah, Nablus, Jericho, Tulkarem and Hebron, where Palestinians held banners with words of support for Abbas, and waved Palestinian flags and yellow Fatah flags.
"We are here to show our support to Abu Mazen [Abbas]," Hussam Al Deek, a Ramallah-based lawyer taking part in the protest, told Al Jazeera. "We are behind him as he wages a political fight against US and Israeli dictates."
On Sunday, the PA announced it would close all its institutions at 11 am local time, so its employees could participate in the protests. Public schools were also closed, and unions called on their members to take part in the day's events.
Addressing a crowd in Ramallah, Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah said Abbas was "fighting for the preservation of the Palestinian national identity” and that he “would not give up on one inch of land."
In Hebron, senior Fatah member Abbas Zaki said Abbas "would not forfeit or compromise on the national principles," in reference to pressures Zaki said the Palestinian president was under to accept a "framework agreement" being proposed by Washington.
The US has been pushing an interim agreement to extend Israeli-Palestinian peace talks beyond the April 29 deadline. The agreement reportedly includes a demand that Palestinians recognise Israel as a "Jewish state".