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Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Palestinian University Closes Temporarily After Violent Clashes on Its Campus

CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION
Wednesday, April 2, 2008

By MATTHEW KALMAN

Jerusalem

Classes have been suspended at Al-Azhar University in Gaza City until
Thursday after violent clashes on Monday that were blamed on
supporters of Hamas.

The university is regarded as one of the last bastions in Gaza of the
Fatah movement, which is headed by Palestinian President Mahmoud
Abbas. The rival Hamas group, which controls the Palestinian
parliament, seized power in Gaza last year.

According to witnesses of Monday's clashes, Hamas supporters,
including many nonstudents, broke into the campus at dawn, detained
university security guards, and attacked several lecturers and
students.

The intruders festooned the campus with Hamas flags and portraits of
Hamas's founder, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, and held a ceremony to mark the
fourth anniversary of his assassination in an Israeli helicopter
strike.

The commemoration violated an order from the university administration
banning student political activities on the campus.

Ayman Shaheen, a political-science professor at Al-Azhar, told The
Chronicle that the infiltrators began beating staff members and
students who tried to remove the Hamas flags and posters.

"Because of the tense situation in Gaza between Fatah and Hamas, the
university administration decided a month and a half ago to stop all
student political activities on campus," he said on Tuesday. "The
university wants to avoid any clashes between the two main groups. But
the Hamas supporters forced their way in to hold their festival."

There were conflicting reports about whether Hamas security forces
aided the demonstrators.

A Hamas spokesman flatly denied that the security forces had a role in
Monday's clashes. "The police were not involved," the spokesman, Sami
Abu Zuhri, said. "This was an internal matter and very small."

"The Islamic students' committee has been repeatedly denied permission
to hold any kind of activity in Al-Azhar University, and the
administration has not given them any explanation," Mr. Abu Zuhri
said. "On Monday they wanted to mark the anniversary of the death of
Sheikh Ahmed Yassin but the university withheld permission. So the
students insisted on going ahead with the celebration anyway. ...
There were small clashes with other students who supported Fatah."

Since Hamas took power in Gaza, Al-Azhar has managed to stay open, but
Hamas security officials have raided the campus at least five times.

Several female students were beaten on Monday while attempting to tear
down posters in support of Hamas, according to news reports. One
student told the Palestinian Center for Human Rights that she was
beaten and sprayed with chloride.

Jaber El-Da'our, the university's vice president for administrative
affairs, told the human-rights group that he and two colleagues were
pursued through the campus by Hamas members.

"The teachers and I decided to stay away from them and their ceremony.
However, they pursued us again and started to assault us till we left
the campus. We demonstrated near the main university entrance;
however, the police came and beat us and insulted us, using gas to
disperse us," he said.

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights called on all parties to keep
educational institutions out of the struggle between Fatah and Hamas,
and to protect academic and public freedoms.

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