Amnesty slams Fatah-Hamas clashes

Group charges factions abused captives, used civilians as human shields; PA: Report is baseless.

By JONNY PAUL, JERUSALEM POST CORRESPONDENT
October 24, 2007 05:38
4 minute read.
Amnesty slams Fatah-Hamas clashes

hamas fatah great 248.88. (photo credit: AP)

 
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LONDON - Fighting between Hamas and Fatah in the Gaza Strip earlier this year left 350 Palestinians dead and has been followed by further serious abuses in both Gaza and the West Bank, Amnesty International said in a report published on Tuesday. Entitled "Occupied Palestinian Territories: Torn apart by factional strife," the report accuses Hamas of increasingly resorting to arbitrary detentions and torture since taking power in Gaza last June, and of allowing its forces to attack peaceful demonstrators and journalists. In the West Bank, the report says security forces loyal to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah have been arbitrarily detaining hundreds of Hamas supporters and failing to act against Fatah gunmen responsible for abductions, arson and other attacks. "The leaders of both the PA and Hamas must take immediate steps to break the cycle of impunity that continues to fuel abuses, including arbitrary detentions, abductions, torture and ill-treatment by their forces," said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty's Middle East Program director. "The ongoing factional struggle between Fatah and Hamas is having a dire effect on the lives of Palestinians, especially in Gaza, compounding and exacerbating the human rights and humanitarian crisis caused by Israeli military campaigns and blockades." The 57-page report calls for the establishment of an independent commission of experts to investigate human rights abuses committed by Hamas and Fatah since the beginning of 2006 and for leaders on both sides to commit to implementing its recommendations. Palestinian interfactional fighting in Gaza reached unprecedented levels during the past year, culminating in June when Hamas seized control of PA security institutions. Both PA- and Hamas-controlled security forces and armed groups have displayed "a flagrant disregard for the safety of the civilian population" by carrying out indiscriminate attacks and reckless gun battles in residential neighborhoods, according to the report. This left civilians trapped in their own homes while unarmed bystanders, including children, were caught in the line of fire. The report contains harrowing accounts from victims of both sides, including residents who were directly affected by the waves of armed clashes that took place in Gaza in June and previous months. "For three days we could not leave the house. Gunmen had taken position on tall buildings and were firing rockets at each others. We feared that a missile could come through the window any time," a resident of Gaza City told Amnesty in June. Rival security forces whose responsibility it was to enforce the law and to protect the population instead acted as partisan forces, in concert with armed groups that serve as their proxy militias, and themselves broke the laws and committed gross abuses with complete impunity, the report states. Abbas's decision to suspend the operations of PA security forces and judicial institutions in Gaza following the Hamas takeover has created a legal and institutional vacuum, the report said, paving the way for Hamas to establish a parallel security and law enforcement apparatus "that lacks appropriately trained personnel, accountability mechanisms or safeguards." Arbitrary detentions and torture of detainees by Hamas forces are now widespread in Gaza, as are attacks against demonstrators and journalists covering such incidents. The initial improvements in the security situation that followed Hamas's takeover are fast being eroded, according to the report. Human rights abuses by PA security forces are also rife in the West Bank, according to Amnesty, though much less well publicized - as the international community is seemingly unwilling to rock the boat ahead of the planned Middle East conference in Annapolis, Maryland. Hundreds of Hamas supporters or presumed sympathizers have been arbitrarily detained by PA security forces, violations of detention procedures are routine and reports of torture and other ill-treatment are becoming more frequent. Detainees are held in sites not authorized by law for this purpose and security forces frequently ignore judges' orders to release detainees for lack of evidence, the report said. The PA emergency government in the West Bank has failed to hold to account Fatah gunmen who abduct Hamas supporters and burn down their homes as well as businesses and charitable organizations suspected of links to Hamas - even though the perpetrators are often known in their communities and acted in full view of the security forces, Amnesty said. The arrest and detention of more than 1,000 presumed Hamas supporters, most of whom are not accused of any crime, stands in stark contrast to the PA's failure to bring to justice members of the Aksa Martyrs Brigades, Fatah's armed wing, responsible for unlawful killings, hostage-taking, arson and other attacks against persons and property, according to the report. "The lawlessness which has increasingly gripped the West Bank and Gaza Strip in recent years, culminating in the recent interfactional fighting, is to a large extent the result of the prolonged and systematic failure of the PA to uphold and enforce the law," Smart said. The report also calls for a suspension of the sale or transfer of weapons to any of the parties until guarantees can be secured that they won't be used to violate human rights. "The international community must hold all Palestinian parties accountable to the same human rights standards," said Smart. "It must ensure that the population of the Gaza Strip is not punished for the positions and actions of the Hamas de facto administration and that emergency assistance essential to fulfilling fundamental human rights is never used as a bargaining tool to further political goals."

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