Gaza police 'are shaving long hair'
Police in Hamas-ruled Gaza have started grabbing young men with long or gel-styled spiky hair off the streets, bundling them into jeeps and shaving their heads, two of those targeted have said. It is the latest sign that the Islamic militants are imposing their strict practices on the population.
Hamas has been slowly forcing its fundamentalist interpretation of the religion on already conservative Gaza since it overran the territory in 2007. But the new crackdown on long hair and tight or low-waist trousers - in several cases accompanied by beatings - appears to be one of the most aggressive phases of the campaign so far.
The crackdown began last week, and two of those targeted said they were rounded up in separate sweeps in Gaza City that included more than two dozen young men.
House painter Ayman al-Sayed, 19, had shoulder-length hair before police grabbed him and shaved his head on Thursday. "The only thing I want to do is leave this country," said the teenager, who despite his ordeal defiantly wore stylish but outlawed narrow-leg tan khakis on Sunday.
"I am scared. They just take you from the street without reason. I don't know what they are going to do next."
Tareq Naqib, a 17-year-old high school student, said he was also targeted by police on Thursday. He said he was seized outside his home and put in a police jeep along with four young men who had come to Gaza City from the southern town of Khan Younis.
On the way to the police station, police insulted them and warned them that Gaza is Islamic, he said. "They said, 'we want you to respect our tradition.' They made a cross on our heads and asked us to leave and finish the shaving at a barber shop."
Hamas officials played down the campaign - a stance adopted in the past that allows the group to distance itself from a controversial crackdown while at the same time instilling fear in those it targeted. Ziad al-Zaza, the deputy prime minister of Gaza, said the head-shaving "was a very limited, isolated behaviour of the police and is not going to continue".
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights called on Hamas to investigate the "arbitrary detentions and violations of civil rights of civilians". The hair crackdown came just days after the Hamas-run parliament in Gaza passed an education bill mandating separate classrooms for boys and girls from the age of nine.
Since seizing Gaza six years ago, Hamas has moved gradually in spreading its ultra-conservative version of Islam. It has issued rules restricting women or requiring them to cover up in the traditional Islamic dress of long robes and headscarves, but relented if met by protests.