Gaza's Hamas rulers are banning women from smoking water pipes in cafes, claiming it violates tradition and leads to divorce.
"The police have decided to ban women from smoking water pipes in open, public places because it is against our customs, traditions and social norms," interior ministry spokesman Ihab al-Ghussein told AFP.
The smoking of water pipes loaded with sweetened tobacco, also known as nargileh or shisha, is popular in cafes across the Arab world and was one of the few remaining leisure activities left in the isolated coastal strip.
Police spokesman Ayman Batneiji said Sunday that officers are enforcing Gazan traditions. He said husbands often divorce women seen smoking in public
The owners of several large cafes along Gaza's beachfront said that in recent days they were ordered to stop serving the water pipes altogether, before police clarified that the ban only applied to women and minors.
"We received orders from the police to stop serving shisha without any further details," said Abu Ahmad, the owner of one such cafe who asked not to be identified, adding that he is not currently serving shisha to anyone.
Over the weekend even Gaza's main hotels, which largely cater to diplomats, foreign aid workers and journalists, had stopped serving water pipes.
A police officer speaking on condition of anonymity insisted the ruling only applied to women and children but said there may have been a "misunderstanding" by some policemen.
Few women in Gaza's conservative society smoked water pipes in public before the ban, though some would indulge at hotel restaurants or in private.
Gazans flock to the territory's beaches during the summer break, packing dozens of outdoor cafes that serve non-alcoholic drinks and water pipes.
Most of Gaza's cinemas and bars were torched after the outbreak of the 2000 Palestinian uprising, or intifada, and alcohol is strictly banned.
The Islamist Hamas movement has taken only limited steps to impose Islamic law on Gaza since it seized power in June 2007 but has tried to curb the mingling of the sexes in public places.
Earlier this year Hamas banned men from working in women's hair salons, and the police regularly interrogate young couples to make sure they are married.
The police have decided to ban women from smoking water pipes in open, public places because it is against our customs, traditions and social norms,
Hamas interior ministry spokesman Ihab al-Ghussein