GAZA, Sept 26 (Reuters) – At least 500 protesters in the Gaza Strip have called for the overthrow of the ruling Islamist Hamas group in a rare demonstration triggered by the death of a three-year-old boy in a fire during a power outage.
Protesters in the Bureij refugee camp, where the boy’s family live, called for Hamas to be toppled and chanted “The people want to down the regime” late on Tuesday night, echoing slogans adopted in Arab revolutions in neighbouring countries. The police swiftly dispersed the crowd.
Demonstrators took to the streets as the boy’s body was being moved to a hospital, saying they were protesting against the incompetent way Hamas ruled Gaza. Anger spilled over after the boy died and his infant sister suffered critical burns when a candle lit amid a power outage burnt their house down.
Anti-Hamas protests in Gaza, where power failures have left households with just six hours of electricity a day since February, are extremely rare. Three children were killed earlier in the year by similar fires during an outage.
Hamas blames the electricity shortages on Egypt which it says is restricting the flow of fuel, and on Israel, which imposed a blockade on the coastal enclave in 2007 when Hamas seized control from the Western-backed Palestinian Fatah party.
The dead boy’s father called for more protests, saying he hoped a healing of internal Palestinian political rifts could ease the Strip’s problems.
“I call on people to take to the streets and not to fear being clubbed by policemen,” Abdel-Fattah Al-Baghdadi, 23, told Reuters.
“I hold both the governments in Gaza and in the West Bank responsible for what happened to us,” he said.
Earning 1,250 shekels ($318) a month from working as a civil guard at the Religious Affairs Ministry, he said he had been using candles to light his house during blackouts because he could not afford to buy a generator or fuel.
“Besides my wife and two children, I had to spend money to help my bigger family,” he said.