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Gaza economic protests expose cracks in Hamas's rule

In Gaza, it is no surprise to hear complaints about the terrible living conditions - after all, the World Bank describes a local economy in "free fall" with 70% unemployment among young people.

However, what has been extraordinary in recent days is that large crowds of Palestinians have been turning out on the streets to voice their frustration and even criticise Hamas - the militant Islamist group which rules the strip with an iron fist.

Messages by the 14th March Movement - which has the slogan "We want to live" - began to appear on social media last week.

"It's a peaceful, popular youth movement," says Moumen al-Natour, one of the organisers, in his Facebook message. "We're not political and we don't want to change political systems. We just want to get our rights."

"We want jobs, we want to live. We want equality, dignity and freedom," he adds.

On Thursday and the days since, hundreds of demonstrators have turned out in nine locations in Gaza's city centres and refugee camps.

The protests are on a scale and of an intensity that has not been seen since Hamas took full control of Gaza in 2007, ousting Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces in bloody street battles, a year after the group won a parliamentary election.

The Hamas response to the protests has been harsh.

Videos shared online show security personnel hitting people and shooting live ammunition into the air.

Dozens of people have been arrested and had their homes raided, among them activists, journalists and human rights workers.

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