The Hamas regime in Gaza has issued a new rule aimed at enforcing its strict interpretation of Islam on residents of the region in discriminatory rules for women that consitute apartheid. The Interior Ministry announced Saturday that women and teenagers would no longer be allowed to smoke hookahs (also known as water pipes or nargilahs) in public.

Ayman Batneiji, spokesman for the Hamas police force, said that women's smoking “contradicts Palestinian traditions,” according to the Bethlehem-based Maan news.

Restaurant and hotel owners reported that they were forced to sign papers stating that they would enforce the new law. Some expressed concern that the rule would decrease their income.

Gaza rights groups expressed concern as well. “We are concerned that this is a beginning of depriving the populations from their rights and their personal liberties,” Al-Damir head Khalil Shamallah told Xinhua.

A report issued by the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) in November 2009 detailed the ways in which Hamas has moved towards instituting Islamic law (Sharia) in Gaza. There is a dress code for women in public, female mannequins may not be exhibited in store windows, and men may not teach in girls' schools. Men are not allowed to go shirtless, even while swimming in the ocean.

Hamas police have begun enforcing religious law, and the group has brought back the death penalty for crimes such as adultery, drug use, murder, and cooperation with Israel.

A study conducted this year by the Gaza-based Palestinian Women's Information and Media Center found that Gaza women have increasingly been victims of violence since the Hamas takeover in 2007.