GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Putrid piles of neglected trash lined the nearly deserted streets Wednesday as grandmothers and grandsons, mothers and daughters, sons and brothers marched through Gaza City in a bid to save their dreams of having their own country one day.
They carried banners shaming their leaders. They wore Palestinian flags draped across their shoulders. They called their march a "civilian intifada," or uprising, to protest the factional fighting that's claimed nearly 70 lives in four days.
By the time it was over, two people were dead and the demonstration had become a powerful symbol that change had come at the end of a gun and that civil war seemed unavoidable.
The idea for the protest came from an Egyptian mediator who's been working to broker yet another cease-fire between the rival Fatah and Hamas forces.
Few people were willing to risk their lives to heed the call. Those who did, largely Fatah supporters, were angry, dispirited and outraged.
One banner read, "To the decision makers: History will judge you. The street will not forgive you."
Hamas gunmen tried to break up the rally, firing on the crowd, but the demonstrators marched on. Fatah fighters loyal to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas fired their guns in the air in a show of support as the protesters passed, sending protesters scattering.
"Please don't fire your guns, even in a show of support," a rally leader implored over a loudspeaker.
As the protest reached the main park in the city center, a heated debate broke out over whether to keep heading into Hamas-controlled territory. After some discussion, about 150 people marched on toward the Mediterranean coast.
Just yards after passing a Fatah checkpoint, the protest came under fire from an abandoned, 18-story apartment building that's become one of the main Hamas firing positions.
Fatah fighters rushed forward, firing over the demonstrators' heads. Rather than scattering, dozens of Palestinians remained in the middle of the crossfire. One middle-aged woman in a black abaya and yellow Fatah cap with a Palestinian flag draped across her shoulders stood next to a dark pickup with a .50 caliber machine gun mounted in its bed, urging the gunman to stop.
Nearby, a demonstrator tried to physically restrain a Fatah fighter who was shooting at the Hamas forces. The Fatah gunmen fired a shot at the protester's feet as demonstrators pushed him back and encircled him. Other gunmen rushed into the crowd, one firing his machine gun into the air to try to disperse the angry demonstrators.
As the gunfight died down, Fatah fighters urged the protesters to continue toward a neighborhood in the adjacent refugee camp, encircled by Hamas fighters trying to rout a prominent Gaza City family led by Atef Bakr.
As the protest wound down a dirt road towards Bakr's home, Hamas fighters opened fire on the crowd again. Demonstrators sought cover behind walls and trees, but for a few it was too late. Two people were killed and five others wounded, according to hospital officials.
The wounded, four men and a woman, were spirited away as the protest was broken up. Those who lingered too long were forced to sneak out of the area through back alleys after Hamas fighters — pointing their guns — refused to let them walk past their checkpoint.
"There is no winner in this war," said Faisal Abu Shahla, a Palestinian lawmaker and Fatah member who took part in the march. "If the Palestinian Authority collapses, the people will be the only losers."