GAZA CITY: Hamas security forces broke up a protest in northern Gaza on Thursday (Jan 12), an AFP photographer and witnesses said, as thousands took to the streets over an electricity crisis.
The demonstrators gathered in the Jabalia refugee camp for a march, with protesters carrying signs and chanting "We want electricity" and other slogans.
They headed to the headquarters of the state-run electricity company in northern Gaza, but Hamas security forces fired live ammunition in the air and dispersed them with batons, the AFP photographer said.
A number of marchers threw stones at the building, he added.
Iyad al-Bozum, a spokesman for the Hamas-run interior ministry, told AFP the march spilt onto the street of the camp and that security forces intervened when "rioting" started.
The photographer reported that a policeman hit him in the face with a gun for refusing to hand over his camera. He was arrested and the memory card of his camera confiscated.
He was escorted to a hospital where he was treated with three stitches to his face before being released and his memory card returned.
An AP journalist was arrested by plain-clothed Hamas security forces, who forced him to hand over his mobile phones, according to the Foreign Press Association, the foreign media union operating in Israel and the Palestinian territories.
The FPA condemned the "violent behaviour in the strongest terms" in a statement, while AFP also complained to the Gaza interior ministry spokesman.
Gaza has seen near daily protests in recent days over power shortages.
The more than two millions residents of the Gaza Strip have been receiving just four hours a day of electricity since the end of last year, as opposed to alternating eight-hour cycles.
The UN envoy for the Middle East peace process, Nickolay Mladenov, expressed concern over the "tense situation" in Gaza, where residents receive "just a couple of hours of electricity per day in the middle of winter."
"I call for the full respect of the right to freedom of expression, peaceful protest and assembly in Gaza," he said in a statement. "All responsible authorities must cooperate to resolve the electricity crisis immediately."
Hamas has controlled the tiny Palestinian enclave, sandwiched between Israel and Egypt, since 2007.