Spreading Palestinian economic protests focus on leaders
HEBRON, West Bank — A week of Palestinian protests against rising prices and economic hardship erupted Monday into rioting against the Palestinian Authority in this city and others in the West Bank, posing a new challenge to the Western-backed government that has worked to promote stability. Anger has mostly been directed at Salam Fayyad, the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, an internationally respected economist who has been widely credited abroad with shepherding the authority toward sound fiscal policies and the building of the institutions needed for a future state.
But a financial crisis caused in part by a shortfall in funds expected from international donors has forced Fayyad to introduce austerity measures. In Hebron, thousands of youths took to the streets Monday, furious that the president of the authority, Mahmoud Abbas, had not fired Fayyad and instead had expressed support for him over the weekend.
Protesters hurled stones at City Hall and Police Headquarters here and smashed the windows of a municipal fire truck. Toward evening, they faced lines of Palestinian security officers clad in riot gear. The police officers acted with restraint, but when they were pelted with rocks by some of the protesters, they fired tear gas to disperse the crowd.
Stores were closed, and taxi and truck drivers went on strike and blocked roads to protest recent increases in fuel prices. The Palestinian Authority buys its gasoline from Israel, where the price rose sharply this month to more than $2 per liter.