NGO asks court to help Fatah refugees

hamas gaza badass 224 88 (photo credit: AP [file])
hamas gaza badass 224 88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Fatah members receiving medical treatment in Israel said Sunday that they didn't want to return to the Gaza Strip, out of fear that they would be killed by Hamas. The men, who were brought late Saturday to the Soroka and Barzilai hospitals, accused Hamas of waging a "war of genocide" against Fatah supporters in the Gaza Strip. Twenty-three Palestinians, most of them belonging to the Hilles clan, are currently being treated in the two hospitals. Almost all of the 180 Fatah supporters who fled to Israel from a deadly Hamas crackdown Saturday were supposed to be returned to the Palestinian territory on Sunday as per the request of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Defense officials said that after the fleeing Palestinians crossed into Israel, Abbas's office backed down from its initial request to allow them to travel to the West Bank and asked Israel to only facilitate the transfer to Ramallah of five members of the group, including its leader Ahmed Hilles. By Sunday evening, close to 35 members of the group had been transferred back to Gaza where some of them were immediately arrested by Hamas security forces. Defense officials said the remaining members of the group would be returned by Monday afternoon. The wrangling over the fate of the Fatah refugees came a day after the bloodiest day of Hamas-Fatah fighting since the Hamas takeover of Gaza in June 2007. In all, 11 people were killed and dozens wounded during a Hamas raid on a Fatah stronghold in Gaza City on Saturday. The escapees fled to the border with Israel, where they asked to be allowed into the country. Defense Minister Ehud Barak approved the request, which he had received from Abbas's office. On Sunday morning, however, the PA president's office asked the IDF to treat the wounded and return the rest of the group to Gaza except for five members whose lives were believed to be at risk if they cross back into Gaza. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel petitioned the High Court of Justice on Sunday to prevent the state from returning the Fatah refugees back to Gaza. The petitioners stated that forcing the Fatah loyalists to return to the Strip could endanger their lives and called it a serious violation of human rights and of Israeli law. In the petition, ACRI's lawyers said that sending back people who request political asylum to the place they had escaped from constitutes "one of the most severe human rights violations and is a breach of Israeli law and human morality." The court ordered the state to respond to the petition by Monday. Abbas reportedly told Barak on Sunday that there was no danger to the refugees in returning to Gaza. Ahmed Hilles, 56, the leader of the clan and a top Fatah official in the Gaza Strip, was shot in the legs by the IDF after he and some of his supporters approached the Nahal Oz border crossing Saturday. He is currently being treated at Soroka. He told The Jerusalem Post that he did not believe he would be able to return home to Gaza City in the near future. "If it were up to me, I would go back home today," he said. "But I don't think that under the current circumstances it would be a good idea." The clan leader said he and his followers decided to escape to Israel after realizing that Hamas was serious about its threats to eliminate the entire family. "They attacked us with rockets and mortars," he said. "They even prevented the ambulances from evacuating the wounded... Hamas soldiers seized the ambulances and used them to transport their forces to our homes," Hilles said. He explained that Hamas militiamen managed to enter the compound where the clan lived by using underground tunnels. The group leader said one of his sons was wounded and arrested by Hamas during the fighting, while a second was among the 180 Palestinians who fled to Israel. In denying the Hamas charges that his clan was behind the recent bombing in Gaza City, Hilles said his family was targeted only because of its size and power. "Hamas does not want a strong and large family like ours in the Gaza Strip. That's the only reason why they decided to attack us," he said. He also accused Hamas of thwarting all efforts to reach reconciliation with Fatah, saying the movement had placed itself outside the national Palestinian consensus. "Hamas will pay a heavy price for its crimes and the blood of our martyrs won't be in vain," he vowed. "One day we will return to our homes and families. The Gaza Strip does not belong to Hamas alone." Shadi Hilles, another escapee and a 28-year-old member of the clan who was wounded by shrapnel when Hamas policemen fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the house in which he was hiding in the Shajayieh neighborhood, said that returning to the Gaza Strip was like a "death sentence" for him and his friends. "Hamas will kill us immediately. It will be a death verdict for us if we go back there. We hope to stay in the West Bank," he said. He also said that two of his cousins, Khaled and Abdullah, were killed in the fierce clashes that erupted with Hamas on Saturday. Amjad Hilles, 32, was also moderately wounded in the fighting. He too said that Hamas would kill him if he returned to the Gaza Strip and appealed to Israel and the Palestinian Authority to keep him from returning. "We hope they will keep us in the West Bank," he said. "We have no doubts that Hamas would execute us if we go back. They are driven by a strong desire for revenge and are full of hatred." He also expressed concern over the fate of his wife and three children who were still in the Gaza Strip. "We don't know anything about our families because we don't have our mobile phones," he said. He confirmed that the Hamas attack on the Hilles clan's stronghold began around 5 a.m. Saturday when hundreds of Hamas militiamen and policemen surrounded the area and began firing RPGs and mortars at their homes. "I was wounded in the first hour of the fighting, but it took me five hours to reach the Israeli border," he said. "The Israeli army opened fire at us when we were about 300 meters away from Nahal Oz, wounding at least five people. We phoned [the PA leadership in] Ramallah and asked for their help. They contacted the Israeli side and demanded that we be allowed to cross the border. We were forced to wait for another three hours before we were permitted into Israel." Bilal Hilles, 29, said he too was wounded at the beginning of the clashes. The father of three, who has undergone surgery in his leg, said he first tried to go to a hospital in Gaza City, but was blocked by Hamas. "Hamas had closed all the roads leading to the hospital. I wanted to go to Shifa Hospital [in Gaza City], but Hamas did not allow any ambulance to enter our area. In the end, my brother drove me to the Israeli border," he said. When asked if he wanted to go back to the Gaza Strip, he replied: "It would be like a death sentence for me. I hope they don't force us to go back." Meanwhile, Hamas announced Sunday that its forces arrested Zaki al-Sakani, the main suspect in the bomb explosion that killed five Hamas men and a seven-year-old girl in Gaza City on July 25.