BBC Online : Nearly 300 Palestinian couples have taken part in mass wedding ceremonies in the West Bank and Gaza. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attended the marriage of 218 couples in the West Bank city of Jericho. Abbas’s office said the Palestinian Authority had spent $1.5m (£900,000) on the event, which included a gift of $4,000 for each couple. Another 80 couples married at a parallel ceremony in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Palestinian official Jamal Lafi said the mass wedding was “to help young couples get married in the difficult economic situation”. He said all the wedding expenses had been paid for by the authority. At the ceremony in Jericho, brides wore colourful embroidered Palestinian robes and carried bouquets of white roses, while the bridegrooms wore black suits, white shirts and red ties. The couples sat in rows of chairs flanking a central stage in the car park of the Intercontinental Hotel. In his speech, Abbas criticised Hamas, the militant Islamist movement which has governed Gaza since 2007. Palestinians are divided politically between Abbas’s West Bank-based Fatah movement and Hamas in Gaza. Abbas said the group had prevented the couples from Gaza joining the ceremony in Jericho. “Unfortunately, Hamas is insisting on dividing the people,” he told the couples. “Hamas today banned our boys and girls in Gaza from having their party together with us. We wanted to do it as an expression of national unity that they (Hamas) didn’t want.” Previous Palestinian mass weddings have mainly been the domain of Hamas. In the past three years there have been 25 mass weddings in the Gaza Strip either organised by Hamas or by its smaller rival, Islamic Jihad.