Infighting escalates, exceeding red lines

Palestinian children act out a skit against intra-Palestinian fighting, during a demonstration in Rafah Refugee camp in the southern Gaza strip, February 4, 2007. (MaanImages/Hatem Omar)

The number of Palestinian victims of the last wave of infighting has reached 160. 30 have been killed and 130 injured since Thursday 1 February 2007. All efforts to end the armed clashes have so far been unsuccessful; however both sides have announced a ceasefire under Egyptian mediation.

According to the field information collected by Al Mezan, fighting resumed after members of Hamas and the Executive Force of the Ministry of Interior attacked a convoy of trucks lifting caravans and equipment for the Presidential Guards in the Middle Gaza area. Hamas claimed that the trucks carried arms and military equipment. At the same time, two posts - that of the Military Intelligence and that of the Military Police - were attacked in Jabalia, northern Gaza Strip, sparking a wide-scale wave of clashes that surpassed all redlines. Militants attacked, looted and burnt down security posts. Presidential Guards attacked the Islamic University in Gaza, whose building was hit with anti-tank rockets. Some of the university’s buildings were set on fire during the two-days that the Presidential Guards took control over it. Other armed groups, allegedly from Hamas and the Executive Force, attacked the buildings of the Al Quds Open University in Gaza City and North Gaza with anti-tank rockets. The two buildings were set on fire and sustained damages.

The streets of Gaza turned into a war yard with roadblocks set by militants everywhere. Vehicles were stopped and individuals’ ID’s checked. These procedures spread an atmosphere of insecurity and fear amongst civilians.

Moreover, armed men took over most of the roofs of high buildings in Gaza and exchanged fire, causing fear and trauma to civilians; especially children. Attempts by civilians to prevent militants from using their buildings for such purposes were met with more violence and threats of shooting of any person trying to prevent them from access and use of roofs. Al Mezan has detected numerous cases where bullets penetrated the windows of apartments in such buildings. This has seriously breached civilians’ right to adequate and safe housing. In one case, a 45-year-old women, Hanan Al Jerjawi, died from a heart attack when she was terrified from the sounds of explosions around her house.

Tens of other public facilities and NGO buildings were also hit by the fire of the clashing militants. The windows of Al Mezan Center for Human Rights’ office in Jabalia were hit by bullets and minor damage was caused to its library. Ministries’ offices were targeted by militants while violent armed clashes were frequently staged at the Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. Many of the administrative staff left the hospital buildings as medical staffs remained inside their departments. The building of the Trade Unions was attacked and damaged in north Gaza.

In addition, local radio and TV stations contributed to raising the tensions by inciting violence, as opposed to exercising a professional, unifying role during the clashes. Militants attacked the Al Ummal (Laborers) Radio in Jabalia and destroyed its broadcast equipment. Until this morning, the numbers of casualties have been increasing. Three of the 30 who have been killed are women and four are under 18-s. 25 of the wounded are in critical conditions. Since the start of 2007, 97 Palestinians have been killed and 436 injured in internal clashes in Gaza. Among the killed are nine women and twelve children.

Al Mezan Center for Human Rights is gravely concerned by the rise of clashes and the very high number of casualties. While it expresses its condolences and support to the families of the victims, the Center condemns with the strongest terms the resumption of infighting and the concurrent violations of human rights, which have infringed on civilians’ lives and wellbeing, as well as the security of the Palestinian society in Gaza.

Al Mezan calls on all the parties to immediately cease fire and withdraw all militants from Gaza’s streets and buildings’ roofs. It also appeals to all parties to return to constructive dialogue without delay.

The Center emphasizes that effective investigation of all the cases involving violations of human rights and infringes on people’s life and property is imperative. All those proven to have taken part in such conduct must be brought to justice. The enforcement of law and justice is the only threshold to guarantee that such acts are to be brought to a halt. Without this, individuals and groups will be given impunity and political covering, which will only lead to the renewal of clashes and rights’ violation.

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