Friday, June 22, 2007

B'Tselem to Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip: Bring to Trial Those Responsible for War Crimes

From B'Tselem:

This last week, intense fighting erupted between Hamas and Fatah in the Gaza Strip. According to various estimates, approximately 160 people, including many children and civilians who were not participating in the fighting, were killed in the course of these clashes. This wave of violence ended with a victory for Hamas, who took control of all the bases of power in the Gaza Strip and established a separate leadership there.

During the events of this week, both parties committed severe violations of customary international humanitarian law, acts that constitute war crimes. These included summary execution of people identified with the opposing party, some of whom were civilians not involved in the fighting. In some of the cases serious abuse was reported to have preceded the summary executions.

According to media reports, on June 10, 2007, members of Hamas captured 28-year old Muhammed a-Sawirki, who apparently belonged to the Fatah-affiliated Presidential Guard and threw him to his death from a high-rise building in Gaza City , with his hands and legs bound. In response, armed Fatah men kidnapped Sheikh Muhammed A-Rafati, an imam identified with Hamas, and shot and summarily executed him. In another incident that occurred on June 11, 2007, Hamas members surrounded the home of Jamal Abu al-Jidyan, from the Fatah leadership in the northern Gaza Strip, firing missiles and mortars that injured Abu al-Jidyan .When his neighbors tried to bring him to the nearby hospital, Hamas men captured Abu Jidian and shot and summarily executed him. On June 14, 2007, in an incident that was broadcast on the Hamas television station in Gaza , Samih al-Madhun, a leader of Fatah's military wing, was captured in the a-Nuseirat refugee camp. al-Madhun was then strapped to the hood of a car and the nearby crowd stabbed him in every part of his body until he was died.

Another serious phenomenon that occurred in the course of the fighting was deliberate attacks on hospitals and their use as military targets. For example, on June 10, 2007, Fatah members shot mortars and grenades at the Shifa Hospital in Gaza City , where armed Hamas men had barricaded themselves, and the Hamas men fired back from inside the hospital.

International humanitarian law recognizes several fundamental rules that apply to all states, organizations or individuals taking part in fighting, without regard to the nature of the conflict in the framework of which the fighting is taking place (international or internal). Among these rules is the absolute prohibition on summary execution of non-involved civilians, or of combatants who have been captured or laid down their weapons, and the absolute prohibition on committing any act of cruelty toward a member of one of these groups. These rules also grant special protection to hospitals and medical personnel, and forbid attacks on the latter. Acts of this nature are defined as war crimes under international law and impose personal criminal responsibility on those involved in their commission.

B'Tselem calls on the Palestinian leadership of Hamas in the Gaza Strip to investigate each incident that occurred during the fighting with Fatah that raises a suspicion of a war crime having been committed, including those noted above, and to bring the suspects to criminal trial.

In addition, B'Tselem warns against illegal injury to people or institutions affiliated with Hamas in the West Bank , whether through acts of revenge by individuals or groups identified with Fatah, or in the course of arbitrary arrests by the Palestinian Authority. Preliminary signs of such acts have appeared in the last few days, and the security forces of the Palestinian Authority bear the responsibility to use all means at their disposal to prevent such attacks.

B'Tselem also reminds the Israeli government, which has effective control in the West Bank, that it bears overarching responsibility for the human rights of all people in the West Bank, including for acts committed by agencies operating with Israel 's agreement, including the Palestinian Authority.