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Rare protests erupt against Hamas’s 12-year rule over Gaza

This photo provided by Palestinian journalist Osama al-Kahlout shows a protestor holding a sign that reads in Arabic, "I want to live in dignity; I'm wounded and need treatment and a salary," during a protest in Deir al Balah, central Gaza Strip, on Friday.Osama al-Kahlout via Associated Press/Osama al-Kahlout via AP

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Hamas is facing the biggest demonstrations yet against its 12-year rule of the Gaza Strip, with hundreds of Palestinians taking to the streets in recent days to protest the dire living conditions in the blockaded territory.

With little tolerance for dissent, the Islamic militant group has responded with heavy-handed tactics. It has arrested dozens of protesters, beaten activists, and violently suppressed attempts by local media to cover the unrest.

Hamas has accused the rival West Bank-based Palestinian Authority of orchestrating the protests — a charge that organizers vehemently reject.

‘‘There is no political agenda at all,’’ said Amin Abed, 30, an organizer who has been forced into hiding. ‘‘We simply want to live in dignity. We just ask Hamas to ease the economic hardships and tax burdens.’’

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Hamas, which seeks Israel’s destruction, assumed control of Gaza in 2007 from the forces of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Israel and Egypt imposed a blockade, a step meant to prevent Hamas from arming.

The blockade, and three wars with Israel, have ravaged Gaza’s economy but done nothing to loosen Hamas’s grip on power.

Unemployment is over 50 percent and much higher for young university graduates like Abed. Tap water is undrinkable, electricity is limited, and travel abroad severely restricted. Hamas’s cash-strapped government recently raised taxes on basic goods including bread and beans.

Protesters accuse Hamas of corruption and imposing the hefty taxes to enrich itself. They used social media to organize protests last week with the slogan ‘‘We want to live!’’

The protests come just as Hamas marks the one-year anniversary of its weekly demonstrations along the frontier with Israel. The demonstrations, aimed largely at easing the blockade, have accomplished little, even as some 190 Palestinians have been killed and thousands wounded by Israeli fire.

The demonstrations appeared to subside on Monday, but organizers say the protests will continue until Hamas cancels taxes on dozens of goods, creates a national employment program, and releases everyone who has been arrested in the crackdown.

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Abed, the protest leader, said Hamas has stormed his family’s house and delivered an arrest warrant for him to his father.

‘‘Hamas doesn’t want us to scream. It wants us to die in silence,’’ he said.

Associated Press