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Last Updated: Friday, 31 August 2007, 21:30 GMT 22:30 UK
Anti-Hamas rallies staged in Gaza
Fatah supporters run away from members of the Hamas Executive Force arriving in a vehicle during a protest in Gaza City (31 August 2007)
Members of the Hamas Executive Force broke up the protests

Thousands of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have taken part in protests against the territory's Hamas rulers, despite a ban on public gatherings.

About 20 people were injured in clashes after outdoor prayers were organised that turned into marches in main towns.

Protesters accuse the Islamist Hamas of violating civil liberties and using mosques to spread political propaganda.

The BBC's Aleem Maqbool in Gaza says this is the biggest show of opposition to Hamas since it took control in June.

'No one silenced'

Hamas had warned people not to attend the demonstrations, organised by rival factions including the long-dominant Fatah to protest against alleged civil liberty violations by Hamas.

The Executive Force was forced to use sticks to disperse the demonstrators who tried to cause chaos on the Gaza Strip streets
Sami Abu-Zuhri
Hamas spokesman

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu-Zuhri told the BBC that every Palestinian had the right to stage demonstrations but that some of the protesters had thrown stones at buildings in Gaza.

"The Executive Force was forced to use sticks to disperse the demonstrators who tried to cause chaos on the Gaza Strip streets," he said.

Muslim Friday prayers became the focal point for anti-Hamas protests, our reporter says.

Thousands of supporters of rival factions organised prayers in public areas, saying Hamas was using the mosques to spread political propaganda.

The prayer meetings then turned into rallies, with protesters marching through the main cities of the Gaza Strip.

TV news footage showed Hamas security forces arresting protesters and beating some them with long sticks, before taking them away.

At least six Palestinians were wounded when Hamas men reportedly fired stun grenades after Fatah supporters threw rocks at a Hamas figure's home in Rafah.

Two French television journalists received minor injuries in a similar incident near a police station in Gaza City.






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