Hamas bans Gaza New Year's Eve parties

Two Palestinian girls watch the sunset holding balloons with 2016 written on one of them, in west Gaza City.
Two Palestinian girls watch the sunset holding balloons with 2016 written on one of them, in west Gaza City.PHOTO: EPA

GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories (AFP) - Islamist group Hamas has banned public New Year's Eve parties in the Gaza Strip because they offend the territory's "values and religious traditions", police said on Wednesday.

"The interior ministry and police department did not give permits to any restaurants, hotels or halls for end-of-year parties" after several venues requested permission, police spokesman Ayman al-Batinji told AFP.

He said New Year's Eve celebrations were "incompatible with our customs, traditions, values and the teachings of our religion".

Parties had also been curtailed in "solidarity with the families of the martyrs of the Jerusalem intifada," Batinji said, referring to violence that has swept the city and parts of the West Bank in recent months.

Since October, 1, 136 Palestinians and 20 Israelis have died in a wave of attacks and clashes across Israel and the Palestinian territories - including some in Gaza.

The majority of the Palestinians were killed while carrying out attacks, leading some to dub the unrest a third Palestinian "intifada", or uprising.

In previous years, restaurants, hotels and cafes in Gaza were allowed to host closed events to celebrate New Year's Eve.

The new year under the Islamic calendar began this year in October, but the new year under the Gregorian calendar is widely celebrated across the Arab world.

Islamist Hamas tightly restricts public parties and celebrations in Gaza.

A source close to the police said security forces would close down "any unlicensed party".

Gaza, a tiny enclave of 362 sq km squeezed between Israel, Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea, is home to some 1.8 million Palestinians - one of the highest population densities in the world.

It has been under an Israeli blockade since 2006 when Hamas took control of the region in a violent struggle after the ruling Fatah movement refused to cede power following elections Hamas won.