Palestinians deported to Gaza claim Hamas abuse

35 Palestinians who were exiled from W. Bank after barricading themselves in Bethlehem's Church of Nativity say Hamas rule is anarchy.

hamas gunmen 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
hamas gunmen 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Several Palestinians from the Bethlehem area who were deported by Israel to the Gaza Strip five years ago have complained that they were beaten and detained by Hamas militiamen. About 35 Palestinians were deported to the Gaza Strip and some European countries after they barricaded themselves inside the Church of Nativity during Operation Defensive Shield in 2002. Twenty-six of them have been in the Gaza Strip for the past five years. The deportees belong to various factions, including Fatah, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Palestinian Authority officials said Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had promised PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas during their last meeting in Jericho to allow the deportees to return home. The incident occurred on Sunday night, during the wedding of one of the deportees, Zeid Salem. Eyewitnesses said scores of Hamas militiamen raided the wedding in the Tal al-Hawa neighborhood in the southern part of Gaza City and beat the groom and his friends. They said the raid came after those attending the wedding began firing shots into the air to celebrate the event. The Hamas government in the Gaza Strip has banned the custom of using firearms in weddings. This is the sixth time that Hamas militiamen have raided a wedding to stop Palestinians from firing into the air. "They beat us with clubs, chairs and rifle butts," said Yassin al-Harimi, one of the deportees. "They cursed us and told us that the Jews are better than us. It was a very humiliating experience. I never imagined that Palestinians would treat us like this after all we did for the Palestinian cause. Most of us have been wanted by Israel since 2000 and now we are assaulted by Palestinians from Hamas." Another deportee, Ali Alkam, said he and his friends were detained by members of Hamas's paramilitary Executive Force and taken to a security installation where, he said, they were abused verbally and physically. He admitted, however, that some of those attending the wedding had fired into the air. "As far as I remember, only seven shots were fired," he said. "When the Hamas men came, we tried to calm them down, but they didn't want to listen. "They cursed us and beat most of the people in the wedding. "Had they asked us politely to stop the shooting, we would have complied. There was no need to use excessive force." "There is no security in the Gaza Strip," he said. "What happened to us shows that there is anarchy under Hamas. We call on Hamas to punish those responsible for the assault and to end their illegal takeover of the Gaza Strip. We also call upon President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salaam Fayad to work toward returning us to our homes in Bethlehem." The Hamas Interior Ministry issued a statement in which it warned that "public gatherings" must be approved by the ministry at least 48 hours in advance. The ministry banned the use of firearms and fireworks during weddings and rallies and warned against the closure of main streets and public squares. The decision came after hundreds of activists from different Palestinian political groups organized a demonstration in Gaza City to protest against Hamas's violent takeover of the Gaza Strip. Hamas militiamen detained 16 people who participated in the demonstration and confiscated cameras and cellular phones belonging to journalists who were covering the event. At least six Palestinian photographers were beaten by Hamas militiamen, who also raided the offices of some journalists. In response, the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Journalists Syndicate called on its members to boycott Hamas-related events for the next three days. The syndicate condemned the attack on the journalists and accused Hamas of terrorizing the media in the Gaza Strip.