Angry Protests, Transport Strike Grip West Bank
Some 2,000 Palestinians angry at the rising cost of living flooded the streets of Hebron on Monday, as a general strike halted public transport across the West Bank.
Clouds of black smoke poured into the air across the Israeli-occupied territory as furious demonstrators set light to tires, kicking off a second week of protests against the spiraling cost of living, high petrol prices and unemployment.
In the southern city of Hebron, demonstrators took to the streets in the early morning, blocking main roads with boulders and burning tires, which later degenerated into mass stone throwing at cars and the municipal building, an AFP correspondent reported.
They also hurled stones at Palestinian police and Israeli troops in the area.
"We demand that President (Mahmoud) Abbas and Prime Minister (Salam) Fayyad resign and all of the Palestinian Authority because they have been unable to carry out their political and economic duties," said 28-year-old Hebron resident Khaled Idriss told AFP.
Another man had come to protest with his donkey -- the only form of affordable transport following the petrol price hikes.
"I didn't come alone, I came with my donkey to show I am protesting against the rise in (petrol) prices," said 32-year-old Fawaz al-Ragabi.
Public transport was at a complete halt throughout the West Bank as union bosses called a mass strike over the rising cost of petrol which has risen from six to eight shekels per liter in the past two months (from $1.50 to $2.00/1.18 to 1.57 euros).
With no buses, minibuses or taxis in operation, the streets were empty, and private cars were also barred from entering towns and cities by makeshift roadblocks.
At the Qalandia crossing between Ramallah and Jerusalem, small groups of bus and taxi drivers were on the lookout for any strike breakers.
"People need to appreciate what we are doing and they should support us because you shouldn't be paying seven shekels ($1.8/1.4 euros) to get here from Ramallah," one driver told AFP, without giving his name, saying the current price of 3.5 shekels was set to double.
So far, the police have looked on passively as thousands of demonstrators have protested over the past week, with spokesman Adnan Damiri saying they were not planning to intervene unless things got out of hand.
"We completely understand these protests, the president and the leadership's instructions were clear and affirmed the peaceful nature of these protests," he told AFP.
"We are not interested in clashing with the people because we don't want to complicate things, but at the same time we are seeking to maintain the peace."
However the protests triggered sharp criticism of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority from the rival Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip, with spokesman Fawzi Barhum saying they were a "natural reaction" to its "political and economic failure".
"Abu Mazen (Abbas) has to respond quickly to the fair demands of the protesters and make them a priority, because responding to their daily needs is an act of nationalism," he told AFP.
Much of the public anger over the cost of living has been directed at prime minister Salam Fayyad and his government, with many protesters calling for his resignation.
On Sunday, Fayyad and a group of ministers met with business and union leaders, the private sector and civil society groups to find ways of reducing prices and regulating salaries.
The recommendations are to be put to the cabinet on Tuesday.
The Palestinian Authority has also said it is seeking talks with Israel on amending the Paris Protocol, a key accord which has a direct impact on local taxes and fuel prices.
But an Israeli official said on Monday that the Palestinians were "not serious" about changing the accord and only looking to shift the blame for their economic problems onto Israel.