Hamas replaces defunct court system

Group says it won't use newly appointed committee to impose Islamic law.

Hamas rally 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Hamas rally 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Hamas is replacing Gaza's defunct courts with a legal committee consisting of an Islamic law expert, a military court lawyer and the head of the main prison, a spokesman for the Hamas force policing Gaza announced Saturday. Hamas said it wouldn't use the committee to impose Islamic law, a concern raised by human rights groups since the Islamic militants seized control of Gaza by force last month. The legal system in Gaza stopped functioning after Hamas took over the area last month. Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas ordered judges, prosecutors and police to stop cooperating with Gaza's new rulers. Even before the takeover, the judicial system was overburdened and seen as largely ineffective. Many Palestinians instead resorted to tribal law, an ancient custom in which clan leaders get together and negotiate punishments for various offenses committed against family members, from theft to rape and murder. The three-member legal committee will now deal with hundreds of criminal complaints that would normally have been referred to the courts, said Islam Shahwan, spokesman of Hamas' Executive Force, the armed group policing Gaza. Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman, said the committee would not be used to impose Islamic law, but said many Gaza residents want to use Muslim laws to resolve their disputes. Islamic law has long been applied in Palestinian courts, particularly in regulating inheritance, marriage and divorce. "Even in the (old) courts, many people used Islamic law with the consent of both parties to resolve their disputes, and the courts would approve such rulings," he said. Abu Zuhri said the committee is a temporary alternative, until the courts start functioning again. Issam Younis, head of the Gaza-based human rights group Mezan, said alternatives to the existing courts are unacceptable. He blamed the Abbas-installed government in the West Bank for ordering the courts to stop operating. Hamas is under pressure to come up with alternatives to the defunct legal system. The group has been accused of beating or torturing several detainees. Two prisoners have died in Hamas custody. Hamas officials have said those engaged in "violations" against detainees are being investigated, but has not given details.