On Saturday, 2 August 2008, al-Shoja’eya neighborhood in the east of Gaza City witnessed bloody clashes between security services of the Ministry of Interior and gunmen from the Helles clan. Eleven Palestinians, including two police officers and eight members of the Helles clan, were killed, and 103 others, including 17 children and six women, were wounded.
The clashes erupted as the Helles clan rejected demands by the government in Gaza to extradite a number of suspects of assaults against the rule of law, including the explosion that occurred at Gaza beach on 25 July 2008, which killed a child and five members of the Izzeddine al-Qassam Brigades (the armed wing of Hamas), according to sources of the Ministry of Interior.
According to investigations conducted by PCHR, at approximately 5:00am on Saturday, 2 August 2008, security services launched a wide-scale operation in al-Shojaeya neighborhood in the east of Gaza City, aimed to arrest wanted members of the Helles clan. A large force of the police and the internal security service besieged al-Turkman quarter in the east of al-Shojaeya neighborhood and armed clashes erupted between them and gunmen from the Helles clan. These clashes continued until 8:00pm on the same day, during which time 11 persons, including two police officer and eight members of the Helles clan, were killed, and 103 others, including 17 children and six women, were wounded. Eight of the wounded have been admitted into the intensive care unit at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City.
Several civilian bystanders, who were forcibly caught in the line of fire, were wounded. For instance, at approximately 7:15am, a mortar shell fell near a chicken shop belonging to Maher Shukri Esleem in al-Ghalatha Street. As a result nine civilians, including Esleem and his son, were wounded. Another shell hit a house belonging to Isma’il Ya’qoub Halasa in Baghdad Street. As a result, six members of the family, including three children and woman, were wounded.
According to medical sources at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, those who were killed in the armed clashes are:
- Waleed Baker Helles, 18, hit by a gunshot to the head;
- Adham Bassam Helles, 19, hit by a gunshot to the head;
- Mohammed ‘Aamer Helles, 18, hit by a gunshot to the chest;
- Sha’ban Fayeq Helles, 20, hit by a gunshot to the chest;
- ‘Abdullah Fadel Helles, 22, hit by a gunshot to the chest;
- Shareef Hamed Helles, 22, hit by a gunshot to the head;
- Muhannad Ziad Helles, 21, hit by a gunshot to the chest;
- Fayeq As’ad Marshoud, 25, hit by a gunshot to head;
- Khaled ‘Omar Helles, 22, hit by 2 gunshots to the chest and the abdomen;
- Ahmed Khalil al-Nakhala, 30, a police officer, hit by a gunshot to the head;
- Sameh Mansour Abu ‘Aassi, 22, a police officer, hit by shrapnel from an RPG projectile throughout the body.
During the armed clashes, at approximately 4:30pm, dozens of members of the Helles clan were able to flee from the area of clashes, which is close to the eastern border of the Gaza Strip, towards the Israeli-controlled Nahal Oz crossing.
At approximately 8:00pm, the Ministry of Interior issued a press release in which it declared that the police were able to seize complete control over the area of residence of the Helles clan. They arrested many suspects, according to the press release. The ministry declared also that al-Shoja’eya neighborhood would be closed for three days for the purpose of security searches. In a press conference, the Minister of Interior in the Gaza government stated that “the security operation targeted a square which harbored a number of criminals who are accused of causing the explosions, and that heavy weapons, stores of weapons and factories of explosives were found in that security square.”
Although PCHR realizes the enormous security difficulties and challenges, it:
1) Stresses that concerned authorities have the right to arrest suspects of assaults against the rule of law, but in accordance with legal procedures related to arrests and house searches.
2) Reiterates its position that the weapons of clans are part of the state of security chaos and assaults against the rule of law, and it is unacceptable under any circumstances to turn residential areas into stores of weapons.
3) Emphasizes the importance of having strict rules that regulate the use of weapons and firearms by law enforcement officials to ensure non-employment of excessive force, commitment to the principles of proportionality and discrimination, and respect for international human rights standards, in order to maintain the safety and security of civilians.