By Martin Patience |
BBC News, Ramallah
At the parliament building in Ramallah onlookers could see the widening divisions in Palestinian society marching before their eyes.
Anger in parliament reflects a breakdown of law and order|
First, hundreds of Fatah supporters stormed the parliament attacking Hamas lawmakers and forcing the Hamas speaker to flee the building.
Two hours later, Hamas held a counter protest at the seat of government with its demonstrators calling for an end to the inter-factional violence between the two sides.
In the last week, the parliament building in Ramallah has become a focal point for the power struggle between the two main political factions in Palestinian politics - Hamas and Fatah.
In January, Hamas defeated Fatah in the Palestinian elections. The international community imposed economic sanctions on the Palestinian Authority until Hamas renounces violence and recognises Israel.
Tensions have increased between the two factions as the salaries of 160,000 state employees have not been paid in over three months.
It's the worst time I've known in Ramallah because Palestinians are hurting other Palestinians |
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas - head of the Fatah party - also called a referendum which will ask the Palestinian people whether they recognise Israel and accept a two-state solution.
The ruling party Hamas has denounced the referendum as illegal and regards the move as a challenge to its authority.
In recent months, 23 Palestinians have been killed in the inter-factional violence.
No food, no drink
Until now, the worst of the violence had taken place in Gaza - Hamas's stronghold - but in the last week the parliament in Ramallah has become a high-profile target.
On Monday night, gunmen loyal to Fatah shot out the windows of the Palestinian parliament and stormed the cabinet offices, smashing furniture and computers.
Hamas's counter-protest followed the first attack on parliament|
Today, the Fatah supporters marched on the parliament chanting "We are hungry" and "We can't feed our families".
The demonstrators were calling for the Hamas-led government to make the payment of salaries their top priority.
As the Fatah supporters burst into the parliament, they pelted Hamas lawmakers with water bottles, tissue boxes and other small items.
"They drink mineral water in here when we can't afford to buy milk for our babies," cried one man inside the chamber.
Another protestor shouted, "They are getting fatter while we are getting thinner."
After half an hour the Fatah protestors were bundled out of the building by the police and security forces. Then came the counter protest.
Hundreds of Hamas supporters marched by the parliament building. Addressing the crowd through a speaker system, a senior Hamas official called for an end to the inter-factional violence.
Hamas MPs looked on as Fatah supporters disrupted parliament|
"It's more harmful to the Palestinian people than the Israeli occupation," he told a cheering crowd.
Across the West Bank and Gaza, Palestinians will tell you that there has been a complete breakdown in law and order.
Ziyad al-Ayadi, a co-owner of the al-Makan restaurant, knows better than most.
On Tuesday night, 100 armed Palestinian youths entered his restaurant at night smashing windows, glasses and plates, and overturning tables and chairs.
Most of the other restaurants in Ramallah were also attacked.
"There is no law in the West Bank and Gaza anymore," says Mr al-Ayadi at his restaurant, while workers sweep up broken glass behind him.
"It's the worst time I've known in Ramallah because Palestinians are hurting other Palestinians."
The attacks on the restaurants did not appear to be politically motivated but seem to have been triggered when Palestinian police shot dead a well-known car thief in Ramallah on Tuesday night.
But that is of little consolation to Mr al-Ayadi.
"I'm not opening the restaurant until a solution is found for the lawlessness," he says.