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Hamas security forces break up Gaza protest over electricity crisis

Police put an end to a demonstration by Gaza residents to demand more than four hours of electricity per day. The restive region between Egypt and Israel has continued to deteriorate since Hamas took over 10 years ago.

Police officers in Hamas-controlled northern Gaza broke up a protest on Thursday after thousands of angry demonstrators demanded authorities deal with the region's electricity crisis. The gathering near the Jebaliya refugee camp was one of the largest unauthorized protests since the Islamists took over the area ten years ago.

"We want electricity," the people chanted. Electricity cuts introduced by officials now mean that the area's two million residents are only allowed to use power in their homes and businesses for four hours a day.

As demonstrators marched from the camp to the headquarters of the state-run electricity company, Hamas security forces began firing live ammunition into the air and hitting civilians with batons.

Press photographer wounded

Although an interior ministry spokesman said no one was injured, the Associated Press said that one of its journalists was arrested, while a photographer for the French news agency AFP was reportedly hit in the face by a police officer's gun when he refused to hand over his camera. The foreign press had been told not to record the event. The photographer had to go to the hospital and have stitches put in a wound on his face.

Life in the small strip of land between Israel and Egypt has become increasingly difficult since its neighbors introduced blockades in light of the Hamas takeover. Nickolay Mladenov, the UN special coordinator fort he Middle East peace procress, warned that locals could not be expected to live with "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," said the Bulgarian diplomat in a statement. "All responsible authorities must cooperate to resolve the electricity crisis immediately."

es/kl (AFP, AP)