GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Police in Hamas-ruled Gaza have started grabbing young men with long or gel-styled spiky hair off the streets, bundling them into jeeps, mocking them and shaving their heads, two of those targeted and a rights group said Sunday.
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 pants — 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 told The Associated Press 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 Thursday.
"The only thing I want to do is leave this country," said al-Sayed, who despite his ordeal defiantly wore stylish but outlawed narrow-leg tan khakis Sunday. "I am scared. They just take you from the street without reason. I don't know what they are going to do next."
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 behavior of the police and is not going to continue."
The Palestinian Center 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.
Gender separation is already widely practiced in Gaza schools, as it is in the West Bank, where Hamas rival Mahmoud Abbas, the Western-backed Palestinian president, administers some areas.
Enshrining such separation in law marked another step forward in Hamas' campaign of imposing Islamic practice.
Since seizing Gaza from Abbas 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.
Last month, the Hamas government barred girls and women from participating in a U.N.-sponsored marathon, prompting a U.N. aid agency to cancel the race. Hamas activists have also exerted social pressure to get all school girls to wear Islamic dress.
Al-Sayed, the house painter, and 17-year-old high school student Tareq Naqib said Sunday that they were targeted by police in separate incidents Thursday.