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New report slams Hamas and Fatah over human rights abuse in factional fighting

Call for human rights team to investigate; arms transfer halt call

Factional fighting between Hamas and Fatah forces in the Gaza Strip earlier this year left 350 Palestinians dead and has been followed by further serious abuses in both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, Amnesty International said in a new report published today.

The 57-page report, ‘Occupied Palestinian Territories: Torn apart by factional strife’, accuses Hamas of increasingly resorting to arbitrary detentions and torture since it took power in the Gaza Strip in June. Hamas is also accused of allowing its forces to attack and assault peaceful demonstrators as well as journalists reporting on their protests. In the West Bank, the report blames security forces loyal to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of arbitrarily detaining hundreds of Hamas supporters but of failing to take action against Fatah militants responsible for abductions, arson and other attacks.

The Amnesty report calls for the establishment of an independent commission of experts to investigate human rights abuses committed by both parties since the beginning of 2006. Leaders on both sides would be expected to follow its recommendations.

Amnesty International Middle East Programme Director Malcolm Smart said:

"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.

"The ongoing factional struggle between Fatah and Hamas is having a dire effect on the lives of Palestinians, especially in the Gaza Strip, compounding and exacerbating the human rights and humanitarian crisis caused by Israeli military campaigns and blockades."

Gaza Strip
According to the report, Palestinian factional fighting in the Gaza Strip reached unprecedented levels during the past year, culminating in June 2007 when Hamas seized control of PA security institutions in the territory. It argues that both PA and Hamas security forces and armed groups displayed a flagrant disregard for the safety of the civilian population by launching indiscriminate attacks and reckless gun battles in residential neighbourhoods. This left civilians prisoners in their own homes as dozens of unarmed bystanders who were not involved in the confrontations, including Children's rights, were caught in the line of fire.

The report contains harrowing accounts from victims of both sides and from residents who were directly affected by the waves of armed clashes in the Gaza Strip in June and previous months. One Gaza City resident told Amnesty International:

“For three days we could not leave the house. Gunmen had taken position on tall buildings and were firing rockets at each other. We feared that a missile could come through the window any time.”

Amnesty’s report shows that rival security forces, responsible for upholding the law and protecting the population, instead acted as partisans, working with armed groups as their proxy militias. Security force personnel themselves committed gross abuses with complete impunity.

Arbitrary detentions and torture of detainees by Hamas forces have now become widespread in Gaza, as have attacks against demonstrators and journalists covering such incidents. Initial improvements in the security situation following Hamas' takeover in Gaza have since been eroded.

West Bank
In the West Bank, human rights abuses by PA security forces are also rife, though much less well publicised. Hundreds of Hamas supporters or presumed sympathisers have been arrested and arbitrarily detained by PA security forces. Violations of legal detention procedures have been routine and reports of torture or other ill-treatment are also becoming more frequent. Detainees have been held in sites not authorised by law for this purpose and security forces frequently ignore judges’ orders to release detainees for lack of evidence.

Amnesty’s report finds that the PA emergency government has failed to hold to account Fatah gunmen who have abducted Hamas supporters, and burnt down houses, businesses and charity organisations suspected of links to Hamas. Often the perpetrators of these attacks were known in their communities and acted in full view of the security forces.

Meanwhile, 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 arrest and bring to justice members of the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades,
Fatah’s armed wing, responsible for unlawful killings, hostage-taking, arson and other attacks against people and property.

Amnesty’s report also calls on the international community to cease the sale or transfer of weapons to any parties until guarantees can be secured that they won't be used to violate human rights.

Malcolm Smart added:

"The international community must hold all Palestinian parties accountable to the same human rights standards. 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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