Christmas in Palestine
A Palestinian wearing a Santa Claus costume holds a candle as he sits between symbolic coffins during a rally to pay tribute to Palestinians who organizers said were killed recently by Israeli troops, on Christmas day in Gaza CityREUTERS/Suhaib Salem

Hamas has banned all New Year's Eve parties in the Gaza Strip, claiming that the celebration offends religious values. It marks the first time that the Islamist movement – which has controlled Gaza since 2006 – has forbidden Palestinian bars and hotels from hosting events to mark the coming of the new year.

Hamas police spokesman Ayman al-Batinji told AFP that New Year's Eve parties were "incompatible with our customs, traditions, values and the teachings of our religion". He said that the decision had been made after several Gaza hotels and cafes applied for licenses to hold events, as they have done in previous years.

"The interior ministry and police department did not give permits to any restaurants, hotels or halls for end-of-year parties," he confirmed.,

Batinji added that celebrations in Gaza had been curtailed in general "in solidarity with the families of the martyrs of the Jerusalem intifada". As many as 136 Palestinians have been killed in Jerusalem and the West Bank in recent months, alongside knife attacks that have killed some 20 Israelis.

The conservative Islamist movement has long restricted events in the Gaza Strip but in the past hotels and cafes were allowed to hold closed parties. Hamas banned alcohol in Gaza soon after they took power after winning elections in 2006 and then fighting a brief but bloody civil war with their rivals, Fatah.

Although Hamas banned New Year's Eve celebrations, Gaza's dwindling Christian population was relatively free to celebrate Christmas on December 25 and Gaza is host to three churches. When radicals bombed a Christian church in 2009, it was condemned by Hamas, which has been generally protective of the community.